Now in its second year, the program will provide 10 women of color with a two-year, personalized experience that includes up to $3,500 to cover the cost of sections of the Landscape Architectural Registration Exam (LARE), along with funding for and access to exam preparation courses and resources, and mentorship from a licensed landscape architect. Applications are due June 30.
Program eligibility requires the individual to:
Be a current ASLA member in good standing or eligible for ASLA membership at the associate, full, or affiliate membership levels
Identify as a woman and be a person of color
And be eligible to sit for the LARE in the state where they are pursuing licensure.
According to the U.S. Census and ASLA data, approximately 18.5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, while only 6 percent of ASLA members do. 13.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as African American, but only 2.14 percent of ASLA members do. 1.3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Natives, but only 0.45 percent of ASLA members do. And 6.2 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Asian and Pacific Islander while 13.5 percent of ASLA members do, but ASLA doesn’t separate Asian from Asian American members in its data.
The statistics are telling, and as outlined in the Racial Equity Plan of Action, ASLA is committed to fostering equity and inclusion within the profession and making significant strides to ensure that the makeup of the profession closely mirrors the communities landscape architects serve.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of the profession of landscape architecture, was designing nature-based solutions 150 years before the term came into favor. He designed with nature, conserved landscapes and ecosystems, and incorporated native plants — all of which are now contemporary approaches to increasing resilience to climate change.
But now, many of Olmsted’s parks, and those of his sons, are being tested like never before. “Olmsted parks are on the front lines of climate change,” said Dede Petri, CEO of the Olmsted Network, during an online discussion as part of Olmsted 200. And his parks are also increasingly test-beds for new solutions, too.
In a discussion moderated by Dinah Voyles Pulver, national climate reporter at USA Today, Erin Chute Gallentine, public works commissioner with Brookline, Massachusetts, said her city’s Olmsted parks are dealing with climate impacts such as flash flooding and drought. Parks’ trees are now “increasingly vulnerable to pests and diseases.” And across the city, climate change is reducing biodiversity and causing “less robust nature.”
In Manhattan, Central Park has seen record rainfall, more extreme weather events, and mass flooding brought on by climate change. Other impacts include “erosion, pathogens, and the spread of invasive plants” and an “erratic planting calendar,” said Steven Thomson, director of thought leadership at the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks. Climate change is also causing milder winters, which means more visitors in the park year-round. “The park doesn’t have time to rest; it is trodded on more during its restoration phase.”
Looking nationally, ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen highlighted how increasing temperatures and urban heat islands are putting pressure on Olmsted’s parks. “This in turn threatens the health and safety of communities,” he said.
As the climate continues to change, Olmsted’s parks will take on an even more important role. Olmsted understood the value of ecological health and believed it was central to human health and well-being. As cities deal with flooding, drought, extreme heat, and sea level rise, Olmsted’s urban respites will be needed even more.
Ecological conditions in Central Park are now being monitored by remote sensors. And the “lived experience” of those who work in the park day in and out are also a focus of research. Together, quantitative and qualitative data will inform policy recommendations that will help other parks adapt.
In the Boston and Brookline, the Emerald Necklace, a 1,100-acre chain of 12 parks, was originally designed by Olmsted to provide multiple benefits. It was simultaneously designed for flood control for the Muddy River, sanitation, scenic beauty, and wildlife habitat.
But in recent years, the park system has been impacted by development and climate change. Invasive plants and stormwater have deteriorated Olmsted’s flood control mechanisms. During storms, the Muddy River has regularly flooded surrounding neighborhoods. One severe storm caused “devastating flooding” and more than $60 million in property damages.
The Muddy River Restoration Project, formed out of a broad partnership, has been daylighting culverts, dredging, and removing invasives in order to speed the flow of floodwaters, increase the capacity of the Emerald Necklace to store water, and restore ecosystems. As Olmsted envisioned, “banks will swell, but we’ll be able to naturally manage the flooding,” Gallentine said.
The Central Park Conservancy is also bolstering Olmsted’s ingenious natural infrastructure so it can better withstand future changes. To support a range of species, the conservancy is daylighting streams and creating riparian habitat. It’s replacing lawn with grasses. And it’s also creating more spaces designed for birds and other pollinators.
And at a national level, ASLA is building on its Olmstedian legacy of fellowship, advocacy, and democratic engagement to advance climate action, explained Carter-Conneen. (Two of Olmsted’s sons were among the society’s co-founders).
ASLA launched its Climate Action Plan last year, and its goals include investing in nature-based solutions, focusing on equitable development, and restoring ecosystems on a global scale, which we can imagine Olmsted Sr. would have supported.
“Boston needs to ramp up its heat adaptation strategies, because two summers ago, the city had 40 days of temperatures over 90 degrees. This was a major problem because no one in the city has air conditioning,” said landscape architect Diana Fernandez-Bibeau, ASLA, deputy chief of urban design at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, during the Living Future conference in Washington, D.C.
Fernandez-Bibeau and Tamar Warburg, director of sustainability at Sasaki, outlined Boston’s innovative new plan for addressing extreme heat, which is part of its Climate Ready Boston effort. The plan promotes strategies ranging from parks to street trees, green roofs to library cooling centers, and offers “multiple layers of benefits.”
“The city is centering people in the resilience process. We’ve completed [sea level rise and flooding] planning for all the city’s coasts. And now with the heat plan, we are ahead of the ball,” Fernandez-Bibeau said.
Heat is a priority for the city because it is “the number-one cause of weather related deaths,” she said. “Children and older adults are at risk, along with those with pre-existing conditions like asthma and diabetes. Construction workers, athletes, the unhoused, and those without air conditioning are also at risk.”
Through the 350 plus-page plan, the city argues that heat depends on how someone experiences it, rather than the actual temperature. “Age matters, as does someone’s adaptive capacity, which relates to level of access to cooling. In built-up environments with no trees, parks, or splash pads, perceived heat can have a greater intensity.”
Fernandez Bibeau emphasized that the data used in Boston’s plan is rooted in perceived heat, which she called “revolutionary.” The city decided not to use federal data, instead creating new climate datasets and modeling that they argue tell a truer picture of what heat feels like on the ground in different conditions.
The city brought together a multidisciplinary team, which was led by Sasaki, a landscape and planning firm, and includes All Aces, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy; Klimaat, which provided heat data, modeling, and visualizations; and WSP, which examined how to finance heat solutions.
Equity was a major focus for the team. Boston has a dark racial past, and “many areas of the city were redlined and subject to disinvesment by the Boston city government,” said Warburg. When the Sasaki team identified the hottest areas of the cities, they found they almost perfectly lined up with the communities that had been subject to racist policies in the past.
The city focused on these previously redlined areas, what they call “environmental justice communities” — Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
According to Fernandez-Bibeau, these are not what have been described as vulnerable communities. “There are vulnerable conditions and infrastructure, not vulnerable communities. These communities are actually incredibly resilient, but their environment doesn’t serve them.”
In the five neighborhoods, temperatures can be up to 7.5 degrees hotter, which means the difference between 83 and 90 degrees. And the communities are even hotter at night. “They have 70 percent less parks and open space and 30 percent fewer street trees than communities that weren’t redlined,” Warburg said.
Chinatown was found to be Boston’s hottest neighborhood. “89 percent of it is impervious, and there is little greenery or shade.” The community is a heat island, which is caused by paved streetscapes and the thermal masses of buildings. “Those buildings radiate heat at night, reducing the ability of the community to cool down.”
To kick-start the work in the neighborhoods, the city and the planning team set up advisory boards, hosted open houses, sent out surveys, and hosted youth charrettes.
Sasaki also asked Bostonians to mark on a map where they felt hot. “In the comments, recurring themes came up — the lack of shade and trees, the impacts of pollution, and affordability issues,” Warburg explained. And the comments also outlined where Bostonians go for cooling relief.
City residents could use a website to create their own three-panel comic strip, choosing colors to indicate how uncomfortable they are. “It was qualitatively helpful.”
And with each neighorhood, the team also drew possible solutions on top of a transect, showing how trees, parks, shade structures, and green roofs could be woven in.
Sasaki and Klimaat tested the cooling benefits of a range of strategies, including converting streets to parks, planting street trees and tree groves, and adding shade structures. They also examined the different cooling benefits of green roofs; cool roofs, which are painted white; and shaded green roofs.
The team looked at how to make transportation systems more heat-resilient, too. Through pocket parks and cool streets, walking to the bus or subway will be made a cooler experience. So will “cool bus stops” with shade canopies. All these strategies together form an implementation toolkit.
The plan also covers how to increase equitable access to cooling. In the past, the city had opened up cooling centers but asked for personal information, such as name, phone number, and health insurance information.
Warburg said the unintended effect was to drive away many prospective visitors. “This was asking too much info,” particularly for the unhoused; immigrants, who may not have documentation; and others concerned with their privacy. Warburg learned that many instead “went to public libraries, which have water, bathrooms, wi-fi, and a place to sit.”
As a result of the research, the city will “move away from asking for IDs” at the cooling centers in the future, Fernandez-Bibeau said.
The city government and Sasaki piloted the creation of new outdoor cooling areas at a few public libraries, which provided free wi-fi, shade, and misters. “At the East Boston public library, the plan was to keep up the temporary outdoor cooling pop-up for a few weeks; it ended up staying for four months,” Warburg said. (see image at top).
To increase resilience, the plan calls for operationalizing heat management, including heat risk notifications through the city’s 311 system.
Other priorities include: mobilizing city government workers with heat wave resources; and targeting utility assistance programs and long-term home energy retrofits towards at-risk community members.
Building community capacity to manage heat solutions is another focus area. “Neighborhood champions can help ensure older residents are using fans and drawing their shades,” Warburg said.
“Heat resilience is layered. All solutions are needed to mobilize communities,” Fernandez-Bibeau said.
Now the hard part. Implementation challenges will need to be addressed, such as securing the capital budgets to develop new cooling nature-based solutions and the maintenance budgets to support that work.
And some underserved communities are already concerned that adding trees will have a gentrifying impact. “What if by adding trees we make it less affordable to live here?” Warburg worried.
Tree maintenance issues are a factor. Cities like Philadelphia and Boston have planted thousands of trees but seen many of them die because neighbors didn’t have the time or resources to take care of them.
“During drought and heat waves, trees need extra care; without that, it impacts their ability to thrive,” Fernandez-Bibeau said. The city now has four arborists on staff who can help watch over the canopy.
And to ensure future development doesn’t cause more heating, projects not only need to include energy and carbon modeling, but also thermal comfort modeling as a matter of course. “Any development’s impact should be understood relative to existing heat conditions.”
Fernandez-Bibeau said more planning will be needed to advance the heat plan as well. “Heat adaptation will require studies involving the city’s urban forest plan, open space and recreation plans.”
“Boston faces some extreme challenges. Inequities and climate climate are interconnected,” Fernandez-Bibeau said. And to date, the city has been “hindered by old systems and structures, which are not enabling communities to grow in an equitable way.”
While the heat solutions are rolled out over the coming years, Fernandez-Bibeau urged policymakers and landscape architects to use projected weather data for 2050 and even 2070 and “design for the future.”
According to the producers, the film “underscores the profound inequality that persisted for decades in the number, size, and quality of state park spaces provided for Black visitors across the South. Even though it has largely faded from public awareness, the imprint of segregated design remains visible in many state parks.”
“O’Brien’s balanced research on Black self-help to achieve some measure of recreational access in the face of Jim Crow is one of the book’s crowning successes,” LaRue Smith writes. “There are many other well researched elements relating to the history of the ‘Negro Problem,’ park planning and politics, post-World War II ‘separate but equal’ policies, and court battles primarily brought by the NAACP to dismantle park segregation. Together, these research areas build a much-needed historical record of Jim Crow and the exclusion of African Americans in southern state parks.”
The film features commentary by O’Brien, who is a professor of environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University, and architect Arthur J. Clement, who attended a segregated state parks as a child. “Dramatic images and live footage bring this painful history into contemporary focus,” the film producers write.
In collaboration with the National Building Museum, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is presenting this event free of charge. The Olmsted Network and Library of American Landscape History are co-sponsors. And the program is supported by the Darwina L. Neal Cultural Landscape Fund for adult programs focusing on cultural landscapes.
5:30 pm – Doors open
6:00 pm – Film screening
6:30pm – 7:15pm – Panel discussion with William E. O’Brien, Arthur J. Clement, and Wairimũ Ngaruiya Njambi, moderated by ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
7.15 – 7.30 pm – Remarks by Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, president of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, on behalf of the Olmsted Network
7.30 – 8.30 pm – Reception
Design Workshop, a landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm, created a foundation in 2002. The foundation has now launched a new Community Capacity Building Initiative, which they describe as a “comprehensive technical assistance process designed to advance community action and overcome built environment challenges.” The foundation seeks applications for technical assistance from underserved communities in Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado; Piedmont region, North Carolina; and the Houston Metroplex, Texas.
The initiative aims to address the “systemic under-funding of projects in historically under-represented communities.” The foundation will provide “no-cost support for community teams.” Each project will be staffed with “teams of 3-4 landscape architects and planners,” which will have weekly hours assigned to the projects. The teams will organize workshops and charrettes with communities to create action plans.
“The Community Capacity Building Initiative goes far beyond simply donating our design and planning services. The work done on the selected projects is strategically designed to fill a gap in the design ecosystem in support of historically marginalized communities,” said landscape architect Sarah Konradi, ASLA, executive director of the Design Workshop Foundation.
The initiative aims to help communities with a range of projects. These could include developing strategies and planning documents to move forward fundraising and implementation; designing events and programs; or organizing “tactical” or “pop-up” projects, such as “painted bike lanes, crosswalks, parklets, temporary parks and installations.”
“One project will be selected for each of the three regions,” Konradi said. “We intentionally selected areas near a few of our office locations so that our teams can be hands-on throughout the entire project. It also allows us to draw on our first-hand understanding of the area’s distinct culture, diversity, opportunities, and challenges to co-develop outcomes that fit the needs of the communities.”
With climate change, wildfires and heat waves are becoming increasingly dangerous. In many communities, they occur at the same time in summer months, putting the public’s health at even greater risk. And children, which are one of the most vulnerable populations, are being impacted and having to stay home from school.
During these climate events, “can we open school buildings as shelters and safe community spaces?” asked Abby Hall, senior advisor for local and regional planning at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during the Living Future conference in Washington, D.C.
Hall, a citizen of the Cherokee nation, works in the EPA’s Office of Policy, where she focuses on local and regional planning and leads projects that involve urban design, landscape architecture, and sustainable architecture. She also leads a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support “better disaster recovery and climate adaptation planning.”
As part of this partnership with FEMA, Hall and her collaborators are developing county-wide hazard mitigation plans and pilot programs that increase resilience to extreme heat and wildfires in Oregon and Arizona.
“When we think of cooling centers, we may think of malls, movie theaters, faith-based facilities, community centers, parks, recreation centers, schools, and libraries,” Hall said. Many of these places can also serve as clean air centers. “These places can be respites, resilience hubs.”
For this effort, the EPA is focusing on schools in particular, and how to improve their infrastructure so they can serve as both cooling and clean air centers. The EPA is looking at schools because kids are among the most groups most impacted by heat and smoke. And if they need stay home from school, a parent also needs to stay home, causing ripple effects in communities.
Landscape architecture firm Spackman Mossop Michaels is consulting with the EPA for the multi-year effort. “We are helping focus attention on the priorities when we talk about vulnerabilities. There are lots of needs, but not enough resources,” said Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with the firm.
The planning team, which also includes Glumac, an engineering firm that is a subsidiary of Tetra Tech, is partnering with pilot communities in Kittitas and Multnomah counties in Oregon, and Pima County in Arizona, which includes tribal lands.
The team has conducted stakeholder meetings, run population and risk assessments, and developed action plans that function as “playbooks.”
What will also come out of the process with pilot communities is an “intentionally simple tool any community can use to identify threats and vulnerable populations, determine level of access to cooling and clean air centers, and identify the feasibility and costs of updating school facilities,” Bullock said.
In each community, both extreme heat or wildfire smoke were top issues, but one was slightly higher priority than the other.
In Multnomah County, which includes Portland, the team first explored: Where are the big impacts? Where are the most vulnerable?
Age is an important factor in determining vulnerability. Both children and older adults are at greater risk. The team also looked for communities with high percentages of asthma cases, people who work outside, and those with income below $50,000 per year.
The next level of analysis then meant to answer the questions: “How can we serve the most number of people? Where can we have the biggest bang for the buck?” Bullock said.
The team looked at census blocks and transit access to find the schools in the hottest locations, near the most numbers of vulnerable people, and where there was the highest population densities.
Then, an additional layer of analysis examined: “Which schools would be the easiest to upgrade? Which have the capacity for assembling large number of people, beyond students?”
Across western states, there have been increasingly “hot and dry summers.” This weather creates conditions for “worst case scenarios — a super hot day with wildfire smoke,” Bullock said.
“And while heat and smoke require different solutions, children are the common factors,” Hall said.
Children face greater risks from heat because “their bodies are smaller, so it’s harder for them to cool down. They forget to drink water. They are less able to adapt to extreme heat because of physiological differences,” Hall explained.
And smoke is also a greater danger for them because “children continue to develop their lungs and have narrower airways. They take twice as many breaths as adults. They are lower to the ground where particulate matter rests. And they have more permeable skin.”
The risks facing children, older adults, and outdoor workers are worsened by systemic inequities. Previously redlined neighborhoods are hotter because of historic lack of investment in trees and green spaces. And these communities also often have lower levels of air conditioning in homes.
And in communities comprised of diverse cultures, “there may be different ways to cool bodies, based on age, ethnicity, or whether someone works outside.” So historic inequities and diversity must also be factored in.
Whether communities are dealing with heat or smoke, there are health risks for the entire population. Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and cardiovascular, respiratory, and kidney disorders. Smoke can create eye, respiratory, and cardiovascular problems and exacerbate diseases. And asthma is worsened by smoke.
For children in school, heat and smoke also have significant impacts on learning ability. Studies demonstrate that test scores go down in warmer classrooms or when there are wildfires. And asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in schools. “Reducing these impacts is really part of the business case for schools. Test scores are how they measure success,” Hall said.
The conversation then focused on how the pilot programs may help create national guidelines on heat and smoke for schools. “When should sports be cancelled? When should schools be closed? We need to do more work there,” Hall said.
The pilot programs will also offer best practices on how to upgrade HVAC systems and better prepare schools, teachers, and the community.
In many Pacific Northwest communities, air conditioning is rare because it hasn’t been needed. But with climate change, there is now a need to address increasingly common summer temperatures over 90 degrees. “Most of Portland, Oregon’s schools don’t have air conditioning,” Bullock said. “Where will they find the resources to upgrade?”
The analysis created by the EPA, Spackman Mossop Michaels, and Glumac also looks “beyond the HVAC” to roofs, campus streetscapes, tree canopies, and transportation systems as solutions.
“Our message is that schools are a safe place. Keep your children in school,” Hall said.