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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Can Nature-based Alternatives to Seawalls Keep the Waves at Bay? – 08/12/22, The Guardian
“’We can’t build single-purpose infrastructure any more,’ said Pippa Brashear, ASLA, project manager for the Living Breakwaters. The structure that comprises granite rocks and eco-concrete, along with the biological activity that will latch on to and grow out of these structures are intended to work together.”
Highway Removal a High Hurdle, Even With New Funding – 08/11/22, Governing
“Removing highways is a tricky business, a costly and time-consuming physical feat, but advocates say even a small commitment to addressing the harms of legacy highway infrastructure is a positive sign.”
RAISE Grants to Fund Complete Streets in Nearly Every State – 08/11/22, Streetsblog
“The U.S. Department of Transportation released the list of projects that were approved as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant programs, which funds roughly $2.2 billion across 166 initiatives spanning all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.”
A Landscape for Clean Water on the Chesapeake Bay– 08/09/22, Metropolis
“‘We understood the slope necessary for the historic structures up there, and still wanted to maximize the amount of shoreline that could survive,’ says Carlin Tacey, Waterstreet’s project manager. ‘We’re slowing down the water flow, and trying to use a planted landscape to absorb nutrients that would end up in the bay.'”
By Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, and Caleb Raspler
Congress has passed and President Joseph Biden is expected to sign into law the U.S.’s most comprehensive response to the climate crisis to date — The Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation makes an historic investment of $369 billion to improve energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help communities adapt to climate impacts.
Importantly, the Act recognizes and funds landscape architecture approaches to address climate change — from active transportation projects like Complete Streets and recreational trails, to nature-based water infrastructure, community tree planting, ecosystem restoration, and more. Additionally, the legislation makes significant strides in addressing environmental and climate justice and ensuring underserved communities receive resources to adapt to a changing climate.
Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to lead these projects. With their community engagement skills, they are particularly suited to partner with underserved communities. The Act provides tremendous opportunities for landscape architects to work with all communities to plan and design a more resilient and low-carbon future.
Significant funding for programs and projects traditionally led by landscape architects include:
ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program: $3 billion to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access through projects that are context-sensitive.
The program provides funding to:
Build or improve complete streets, multi-use trails, regional greenways, active transportation networks and spines or provide affordable access to essential destinations, public spaces, transportation links and hubs.
Remove high-speed and other transportation projects and facilities that are barriers to connectivity within communities.
Remove transportation projects and facilities that are a source of air pollution, noise pollution, stormwater, or other burdens in underserved communities. These projects may include noise barriers to reduce impacts resulting from a facility, along with technologies, infrastructure, and activities to reduce surface transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. Solutions can include natural infrastructure, permeable, or porous pavement, or protective features to reduce or manage stormwater run-off; heat island mitigation projects in rights of way; safety improvements for vulnerable road users; and planning and capacity building activities in disadvantaged or underserved communities.
Low Carbon Transportation Materials Grants: $2 billion to incentivize the use of construction materials that have substantially lower levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in landscape architecture projects, including reimbursements.
NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
$250 million for conservation, protection, and resilience projects on National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
$250 million for conservation, ecosystem, and habitat restoration projects on NPS and BLM lands.
$200 million for NPS deferred maintenance projects.
$500 million to hire NPS personnel.
$250 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY FORESTRY
$200 million for vegetation management projects in the National Forest System.
$1.5 billion for competitive grants through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program for tree planting and related activities.
$550 million for planning, designing, or constructing water projects with the primary purpose of providing domestic water supplies to underserved communities or households that do not have reliable access to domestic water supplies in a state or territory.
$4 billion for grants, contracts, or financial assistance to states impacted by drought, with priority given to the Colorado River Basin and other basins experiencing comparable levels of long-term drought.
$15 million to provide technical assistance for climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience to Insular Areas – U.S. territories.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $2.6 billion for grants, technical assistance, and cooperative agreements that enable coastal communities to prepare for extreme storms and other changing climate conditions. This includes projects to support natural resources that sustain coastal and marine resource dependent communities and assessments of marine fishery and marine mammal stocks.
$50 million for competitive grants to fund climate research related to weather, ocean, coastal, and atmospheric processes and conditions and impacts to marine species and coastal habitat.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
$3 billion in competitive grants to address clean air and climate pollution in underserved communities.
$33 million to collect data and track disproportionate burdens of pollution and climate change on environmental justice communities.
$250 million for the General Services Administration to convert facilities to high performing buildings.
$2.1 billion to purchase low carbon materials.
$975 million for emerging and sustainable technologies and related sustainability programs.
$20 million for hiring new personnel to conduct more efficient, accurate, and timely reviews for planning, permitting and approval processes.
Department of Agriculture: $19.4 billion to invest in climate-smart agriculture practices and land interests that promote soil carbon improvements and carbon sequestration.
Department of Energy: $115 million for the hiring and training of personnel, the development of programmatic environmental documents, the procurement of technical or scientific services for environmental reviews, the development of environmental data or information systems, stakeholder and community engagement, and the purchase of new equipment for environmental analysis to facilitate timely and efficient environmental reviews and authorizations.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: $837.5 million to improve energy or water efficiency or the climate resilience of affordable housing.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF): The fund will help efficiently finance projects, including landscape architecture projects, to reduce emissions through active transportation, ecosystem restoration, energy and water efficiency, and climate-smart agriculture. The fund will receive $27 billion total, with $8 billion earmarked for low-income or otherwise underserved communities. Funds will flow through regional, state, local, and tribal green banks. And the GGRF will provide the institutional foundation for a National Climate Bank Act.
Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, Esq., is director of federal government affairs, and Caleb Raspler, Esq., is manager of federal government affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
The Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre open-air sculpture park in Cornwall, New York, has engaged a team of landscape architects and architects as part of a $45 million revitalization effort. In the works are a new entry sequence, an art-fabrication space, and a renewed, more sustainable landscape.
In the past few years, Storm King said it has drawn more visitors, likely due its vast, Covid-safe landscape. While better accommodating growth, the center seeks to preserve the serenity of its Hudson River Valley home and create more opportunities for artists.
A new entry sequence will move parking lots out of the campus and into a consolidated area at a forested edge. The idea is visitors will no longer need to navigate around vehicles once they arrive at the center, and former parking lots can now be used as platforms for more outdoor sculptures.
Entry pavilions, which will be built to handle school buses and public transportation, will orient visitors and offer gathering spaces. The structures will be designed to blend into the landscape, which will be “carefully shaped and populated with native plants that intuitively guide visitors through an outdoor lobby and into the grounds,” Storm King writes.
For conservation, fabrication, and maintenance, a new building will serve as a multi-use “workshop, studio, mechanical shop, storage space, and office” designed for greater creative collaboration. Art will be fabricated on-site, creating more opportunities for emerging artists. The new buildings will also be fully electric and run on renewable energy generated on-site.
The land under the former parking lots will be returned to its natural state, as meadows in the north and south ends of the campus are extended.
“By consolidating the car parks from the meadows to the woodland fringe, we minimize the impact of vehicles on the landscape and vistas. The restored ground will provide opportunities for the reintroduction of plant communities,” said landscape architect Neil Porter, founding partner of Gustafson Porter + Bowman, in a statement.
Storm King’s diverse landscape of hay fields, meadows, wetlands, and forests, originally designed by landscape architect William A. Rutherford, is “dominated by native species,” including 100 acres of meadows grasses. The landscape architecture team plans on adding 650 trees to increase biodiversity and provide more shade.
“We thought deeply about how to make the woods, wetlands, and overall biodiversity of the grounds a more inherent and exciting part of the experience, especially how it can support people’s encounters with the art,” said Beka Sturges, ASLA, principal at Reed Hilderbrand. “This includes planning for greater diversity of plant species — varying heights, textures, shapes, and groupings, which reward intimate viewings as well as long views.”
The surrounding community of Cornwall and Orange County, New York also expect to see benefits, as does New York state, which contributed $2.6 million to the project. Joshua Wojehowski, Cornwall Town Supervisor, said: “the project supports the town and region by providing more opportunities for residents, schoolchildren, and artists, and it protects wildlife and plant diversity as a land corridor between public parks.”
WxLA is an advocacy initiative for gender justice in the field of landscape architecture founded in 2019 by a group of landscape architects and planners — Gina Ford, FASLA; Steven Spears, FASLA; Jamie Maslyn Larson, FASLA; Cinda Gilliland, ASLA; and Rebecca Leonard, FAICP.
Over the past three years, the organization has raised more than $55,000, sending 27 emerging professionals to ASLA Conferences on Landscape Architecture. This year, WxLA is back, offering scholarships to a new group of emerging leaders so they can attend the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, November 11-14.
WxLA states that the purpose of the scholarship is to aid in the “professional development and success of young and emerging leaders” by covering costs associated with in-person conference attendance. Applications are due August 31.
Should designers care about artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML)? There is no question the technology is adding texture to the current zeitgeist. Never could I have imagined seeing a blockbuster hit where Ryan Reynolds emerges as a conscious non-player character in a video game and a flop where Melissa McCarthy negotiates humanity’s future with a James Corden-powered superintelligence within a year of each other. But does learning AI and ML’s ins and outs really matter for the creative professions and our nebulous, invaluable way of operating?
Helen Armstrong, a professor of graphic design at NC State, thinks so. In fact, for her it is imperative. “[AI] is everywhere and has already transformed our profession,” the preface to her new book reads. “To be honest, it’s going to steamroll right over us unless we jump aboard and start pulling the levers and steering the train in a human, ethical, and intentional direction.” The book is Big Data. Big Design. Why Designers Should Care about Artificial Intelligence and its gospel is a primer for designers of all cuts — landscape, graphic, industrial, or otherwise — to get oriented to a brave new world of human-machine relations.
When I say gospel, I do not mean it ironically. Armstrong’s prose is tinged with the passion of an evangelist trying to open our eyes to the great and terrible possibilities of AI-driven design practice. A book of this nature is sorely needed. As Brent Chamberlain and I argued last year in a Landscape Architecture Magazine article, the built environment professions are in the midst of an unprecedented technological transformation that is so overwhelmingly expansive yet so subtle it can be easy to ignore — even if for the mere sake of mental and emotional preservation.
We landscape architects need some particular stirring in this regard. The complexity and timescale of our working medium combined with a mostly healthy skepticism towards new technology for new technology’s sake can sometimes make it seem like the profession is perpetually playing catch-up. Big Data. Big Design. offers the catch-up without condescension, taking the generalist view that every design discipline needs to understand machine learning better regardless of pre-existing technical prowess.
The book’s structure is straightforward, with four main sections sandwiched by a preface and conclusion. The scale of discussion in these sections oscillates between broad definitions of what exactly AI and ML are (Armstrong uses the terms AI and ML interchangeably) and more specific examples of how they are used in design practice.
The parishioner’s tone of the first three chapters then turns more technical in the fourth as the author delves more into the weeds of ML, specifically the differences between its three main approaches: supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning. If I were to use a crude analogy to sum up the book’s conceptual sequence, I would say it follows Simon Sinek’s golden circle model: it starts with why designers should care about ML, elaborates how designers might use it, and culminates in what such a process might mean for society.
Nearly anyone who lives in the modern world produces data, often on the order of terabytes per day. We text our friends, stream videos, use fitness apps, ask Siri about the weather while we look out the window, walk by CCTV cameras, the list goes on. Most of these data are unstructured, i.e. not organized in any clear order. Machine learning provides a way for computers to glean meaning from this lack of structure.
As Armstrong puts it, “even now as you read, computers sift and categorize your data trails—both unstructured and structured — plunging deeper into who you are and what makes you tick.” How does it do this? The short answer is algorithms, statistical analysis, and prediction. Not sure what any of those words mean? Fear not! The book is riddled with basic definitions in the margins, inset snappy diagrams, and clear infographics that will bring even the most tech-averse designer up to snuff. For some, these visual aids may seem trite, but to me they were integral.
As a researcher dedicated to demystifying emerging technology for landscape architects, I believe it is vital we get designers of all demographics and digital abilities to a shared understanding of what AI is so we can all better facilitate its continued permeation into practice. Big Data. Big Design. does this is in spades.
The book’s real strength lies in the compilation of concrete examples from ML-assisted design practice. Armstrong assembles a fantastically broad collection of work exploring this new era of human-machine design that gives support to her claim that “our interactions with machines are shifting from ‘transactional’ to ‘relational’,” and that with that transition comes a fundamentally new way of seeing design.
The reader is introduced to a vibrant, emerging ecology of human-machine design partnerships, envisaging at once all the good that can be accomplished for humanity when those partnerships are well thought out and all the ill that can come when they are not. There are in-depth interviews with human-computer interaction experts like John Zimmerman and descriptions of visionary creative work like that of Tellart and Toyota’s emotionally intelligent concept cars.
And Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler offer a mini-essay on AI ethics.
Besides more minor complaints about lumping ML and AI together as one term, which is not my favorite to see as a technophile but tolerable, or a tendency to occasionally slide into less-than-nuanced conjecture about the implications of technology for society, the most glaring fault a landscape architect will likely see while reading is the omission of ML-driven design being produced in our discipline.
While certainly sparser than that of graphic arts, industrial design, or even architecture, human-machine design work does exist in landscape architecture. Landscape architects are using ML to iterate streetscape designs, explore novel approaches to coastal terraforming, and generate high-level urban design concepts, to name a few things. An author professing to speak to all of us ought to do some due diligence on that, and if she did, at least mention it — especially when she resides in a school that includes landscape architects and is theoretically aware of our impact as a design discipline.
Despite this criticism, it is hard to overemphasize the importance and utility of a book like Big Data. Big Design., which takes an overwhelmingly complex and technical subject and translates it into accessible language for designers of any discipline so that we can better understand how it affects us. The increasing spread of AI into every industry means that those who program AI systems in many ways design the societal outcomes those systems produce, even when said systems become completely autonomous. I agree with Armstrong when she writes “we human designers must be there to frame the right problems — the problems that will move us toward future points that truly benefit humanity.”
Phillip Fernberg, ASLA, is a writer, designer, and PhD Candidate in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at Utah State University, whose work focuses on technology, culture, and design of the built environment.