A Green New Deal means designers can live up to their potential to address the wicked problems of our time. Landscape architects, planners, and architects may be familiar with the Green New Deal Superstudio, which was a call for designers to “spatially manifest” the Green New Deal, or to imagine projects centering jobs, justice and decarbonization.
The Superstudio marks an inflection point for landscape architecture. Grounded in policy and the context of climate change and social unrest, the Superstudio is the landscape architecture community’s public acknowledgement that our work is deeply intertwined with politics.
As a collective of young practitioners, we understand the significance of the Green New Deal conversation happening within and outside of our profession. ASLA and the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) have embraced the Green New Deal, and organized students and practitioners to imagine its tangible implications within the built environment. These steps represent real action towards the shift in practice that Billy Fleming, ASLA, the Wilks Family Director at the McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, called for in his 2019 article, Design and the Green New Deal. Like Fleming and the profession’s organizations, we recognize a shift that needs to happen if landscape architecture is to stand a chance.
It is crucial for landscape architecture to change if we are to have a meaningful contribution toward a habitable future. As Superstudio participants, Wkshp, a team of emerging professionals, viewed the Superstudio as a way to imagine both future projects and adapted practice.
For us, the Superstudio was fulfilling in several ways. With limited experience in professional practice, we found a shared sentiment that our professional experiences were not in complete alignment with what we were sold in school – a sometimes romanticized version of our personal career paths and the impact they will have. After a couple of years in practice, we have maintained faith in the potential of landscape architecture to make large-scale change. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Superstudio was that it prompted us to make space to rekindle our passions and sense of purpose, in ways that often don’t fit into typical modes of practice.
What exactly doesn’t fit into existing practice and why? While developing our Superstudio submission, our time was dedicated to identifying barriers to implementation and asking questions. Repeatedly, we were brought back to the same power dilemmas, which are beyond the scope of the typical landscape architecture project, but were centered in our Superstudio work: structural racism, a patriarchal society, colonialism, severe economic inequity, and environmental injustice, among others.
Working under the framework of the Green New Deal was liberating – it meant that we could transcend the constraints of the current market, and a model of practice formulated to serve it. It allowed us to imagine design processes and projects to serve geographies and communities that have been economically, socially, and environmentally abandoned, while considering how we can work differently.
We imagine a culture that has moved beyond megalomania, utopianism, and individualism. In the Superstudio, we find the seeds of a collaborative realism and inclusive organizing that we are now working to scale and ground. So, a Green New Deal project is not necessarily a “new project” in its built form, but the where, how, and for whom represent a practice transformed. The Green New Deal creates living infrastructure in places that need it but can’t afford it, repairing landscapes that have been endlessly extracted from, preparing underserved communities for unpredictable futures, with an emphasis that it will all be co-designed. This is a new means and mode of practice — one of which does not yet exist, but desperately needs to.
The Superstudio was an experiment in process, just as much as it was a design project. wkshp/bluemarble, a non-hierarchical collective with collaborators from multiple firms working together across three time zones, embodied this ethos throughout. We understand that ethics of flexible leadership and constant growth are critical for facing the challenges of our generation.
The Modernist approach exemplified by architects Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright is a deeply flawed, failed model. We cannot rely on individuals to save the planet. In the same vein, we must stop placing individuals on a pedestal within design culture as a whole. Almost nothing in our field is created — or even conceived — by a single individual, and it’s time to acknowledge the power of a team as well as elevate the power of the ideas, rather than praise a single person. On this note, we reject destructive criticism by those in power within our tiny profession. Young designers need support, especially those willing to dedicate a career (or even one year as a thought experiment) to re-conceiving our collective future.
With this transformational spirit, the Superstudio summit, Grounding the Green New Deal, was an opportunity to begin imagining next steps with fellow Superstudio participants and leaders. The summit organized by LAF, with the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, ASLA, and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., featured a curated selection of projects and speakers from practice, policy, and advocacy. The summit which was thought-provoking, informative, and beautifully executed, igniting a series of deep reflections.
Both the immediate and more distant futures of the profession were on display at the summit. For those seeking spark notes on advancing jobs justice and decarbonization, here are some general themes we came away with:
Connect with and lend support to organizers, center the visions of frontline communities, and grapple with and address the relationship between ourselves, our communities, and our professions to colonialism, racism, and structural inequalities.
Gain a better understanding of both power and implementation pathways, both locally and nationally, so you can make things happen now.
Concurrently work to advance policies like the GND that aim to create change at scale in the future, work to change institutions that hold power, and when working with developers and politicians make them think that your transformative idea is their idea.
Above all, to make a real impact, we need to get organized and plan our actions.
We were especially inspired by the work and vision of organizers such as Colette Pichon Battle, Esq., the executive director of Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, an organization that is actively bringing justice to front line communities in the Gulf Coast Region, and represents the type of organization that designers could support in projects akin to the Green New Deal. The voices of those with public sector experience stood out as well, such as Mitchell Silver, Hon. ASLA, former Commissioner of New York City Parks & Recreation department. These panelists shared their strategies of working within existing institutions to produce projects embodying the pace, scale, and justice-orientation of the Green New Deal in the now.
Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE, and Fleming, both key figures in the Superstudio and the profession at large, provided essential framing through presentations that served as a prompt for advocacy and guide for implementation.
We felt that the lack of organized dialogue among the mass of Superstudio participants was a missed opportunity, and that the format of the summit, while inspiring, felt devoid of the popular, inclusive spirit of the Superstudio. Some challenges – mostly of the “how do I start doing this right now?” variety – still need further testing in the real world. For example, once we connect with community organizers, are we prepared to work differently from our normal practice? Can this work happen at scale outside of academic spaces? How does this work get done where there isn’t an existing implementation structure, or the structure cannot transcend existing forms of development? How do we scale up this transformative practice outside of the most populous, resource-rich regions of the country?
Urgency is in the air. The summit must be the beginning of a conversation, yes, but most importantly must further contribute to radical action both within and beyond the field locally and globally. Now is the time for landscape architecture to evolve.
Here are our next steps: capacity building, organizing, and, most critically, doubling down on the collective imagination that the Superstudio so radically and meaningfully engaged.
wkshp/bluemarble is a team of emerging professionals working for transformations within practice and the world at large.
The day we’ve been waiting for — Olmsted’s 200th birthday on April 26 — is almost here, and we couldn’t be more excited to reflect on Olmsted’s living legacy and usher in the next 200 years of parks for all people.
As we prepare to #CelebrateOlmsted, the campaign needs help showing the depth and breadth of Olmsted’s fan base. The National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP) and the Olmsted 200 campaign are crowdsourcing birthday wishes for Frederick Law Olmsted’s special day.
In the form of short video submissions, we are asking ASLA chapters and chapter members to send birthday messages in honor of this monumental occasion. Record a message alone, film it with a friend, or get the entire chapter or office involved — the possibilities are endless! Videos will be collected and included in a special birthday project. The deadline to submit is April 21.
We also hope that you’ll join us in-person! Next week, Olmsted 200 will be in New York to #CelebrateOlmsted with our founders, partners, and friends. If you happen to be in the city, please join us for park tours and other programming happening in Manhattan and throughout the other boroughs.
The website also includes a lively blog, Shared Spaces, which features many new and exciting updates. Olmsted 200 will continue throughout 2022 and is interested in sourcing blog posts from ASLA members willing to share information about local projects, personal reflections, site histories, and more. To submit blog posts, contact Olmsted 200.
Frederick Law Olmsted, social reformer and founder of American landscape architecture, was born on April 26, 1822, so this year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. To explore and celebrate his life, work, and legacy, the National Association of Olmsted Parks (NAOP), ASLA, and other founding partners launched Olmsted 200.
As part of the celebration, the U.S. House of Representatives recently acknowledged Olmsted’s important contributions to American society. On March 29, Representatives French Hill (AR) and Debbie Dingell (MI) introduced a bipartisan proclamation honoring Olmsted’s legacy, which included a reference to ASLA being co-founded by his son.
April marks the peak of the Olmsted 200 celebration. Throughout the week of April 25, Olmsted 200 will be sharing content live from New York City, where NAOP, ASLA, and other founding partners will be celebrating. Olmsted’s New York City parks will be hosting Olmsted 200 partners and friends during multiple events.
Although the Olmsted Birthday Gala has sold out, there are several other events — many free — happening in NYC, for those who are local to the area or visiting for this monumental occasion.
The Olmsted 200 website also features an ever-changing national calendar full of in-person and virtual programs and events.
Upcoming events include:
Central and Prospect Park in New York City share many similarities, while also reflecting Olmsted’s evolution as a park designer. On April 12 at 12.30pm, the Central Park Conservancy and Turnstile Tour guides will simultaneously livestream from each park as they highlight, compare, and contrast Central Park’s arches, meadows, and natural features to parallel features found in Prospect Park. Learn about Olmsted’s lasting influence on landscape design and public space and see examples of how these designs have been adapted to better fit with modern-day recreational uses and ecological practices overtime. This is a virtual program over zoom; suggested donation $10.
“The Genius of the Place”: Frederick Law Olmsted, Landscape Architecture, and Arkansas on April 14 at 6.30 pm CT. Kimball Erdman, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Arkansas, will speak about Olmsted and the history of landscape architecture. Tom Hill of Hot Springs National Park will discuss Olmsted’s brief encounter with Arkansas. And Chris East of StudioMain will address landscape architecture possibilities next to the Main Library in Little Rock.
Franklin Park: Past, Present, Future on April 30 from 2-4 pm ET. The Boston Society of Landscape Architects is organizing a free walking tour with John Kett, ASLA, principal, and Lydia Gikas Cook, ASLA, senior Associate, with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. The firm is leading an interdisciplinary team with Agency Landscape + Planning and MASS Design Group to re-imagine Olmsted’s Franklin Park, part of the original Emerald Necklace.
The National Association for Olmsted Parks’ Chicago Bicentennial Gala will be in-person on June 17 and include several tours.
Olmsted 200’s website also includes a blog, Shared Spaces, which features diverse voices exploring Olmsted’s living legacy. Olmsted 200 will continue throughout the year and is interested in posts from those willing to share information about local projects, personal reflections, site histories, and more. To submit blog posts, contact Olmsted 200.
ASLA enthusiastically welcomes President Biden’s appointment of Lisa E. Delplace, FASLA, as the newest member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). Delplace is CEO of Washington, D.C.-based and award-winning landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS). With her appointment, the federal agency that reviews the design of all public buildings, parks, and memorials in Washington, D.C. will once again have the expertise of a landscape architect. According to OvS’s website, Delplace’s “extensive knowledge of ecological processes and her deep commitment to their artistic execution result in a strong sculptural relationship between architecture and landscape.” OvS’s work in Washington, D.C. includes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Francis Scott Key Memorial Park, and Virginia Avenue Garden at the Federal Reserve.
“Landscape architects are at the forefront of designing sustainable and resilient urban spaces, including parks, streetscapes, memorials, public educational landscapes, and others. We are incredibly pleased with Lisa’s appointment to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, where she will provide advice to executive departments of the Federal Government on how to best preserve and enhance the visual and cultural character of the District of Columbia,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “The Commission and our nation will benefit tremendously from Lisa’s broad expertise across multiple scales of landscape architecture and her experience with federal projects.”
Landscape architects have a storied legacy on the Commission. One of the original Commissioners was Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., one of the 11 founders of ASLA, who served on the Commission from 1910 to 1918 (1912-1918 as Vice Chair). Olmsted, Jr.’s replacement was James L. Greenleaf, a former ASLA President. With only a few lapses, the landscape architecture profession has been represented on the Commission since its founding.
In 2021, ASLA called on President Biden to ensure the Commission included a representative from the landscape architecture profession. “We thank and applaud President Biden for reaffirming the importance and value of having the counsel of a landscape architect on this important federal agency. Lisa will help shape the future of our nation’s capital, an evolving cultural landscape,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA’s Chief Executive Officer.
For #WLAM2022, we explore: What is landscape architecture? What does landscape architecture mean to you?
ASLA invites you to post your answers on your social media channels throughout the month of April. Tell the world what landscape architecture is. Use simple language.
Step 1: Select a photo that you think best explains landscape architecture
Step 2: Overlay one of the WLAM Logos!
Step 3: Write a brief caption
Explain an aspect of landscape architecture that is important to you.
Step 4: Post to your social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) using the hashtag #WLAM2022
Since April 26, 2022 is Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday, you can also celebrate Olmsted landscapes near you through Instagram. Include the hashtags #WLAM2022 along with #Parks4AllPeople or #CelebrateOlmsted. Learn more about programs and events during the month of April at Olmsted 200.
From April 23 to 25, ASLA National will select the top five #WLAM2022 Instagram posts, based on combined number of likes and comments.
On April 26, Olmsted’s 200th birthday, ASLA National will post the #1 top post on the National ASLA Instagram account. And during April 27-30, the other top four posts will be posted, one each day.
There are two reasons why Superstudio was a good name for an event that would build on the momentum already established by Billy Fleming, ASLA, at the University of Pennsylvania, Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE, and Thaddeus Pawlowski at Columbia University to align landscape architecture with the Green New Deal (GND). The first is that with the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), back in 2020, we had all agreed to launch what was literally a supersized international design studio on the hot topic of the GND. The second reason was that Superstudio also recalls the eponymous Italian architecture group of the late 1960’s that specialized in bombastic imagery and anti-capitalist, anti-design rhetoric. This connection was, for me at least, most important because it signaled that the event we were planning was about design culture, not just political culture. The Superstudio is in this way situated as part of a certain modern tradition of speculation, which in turn provides context for the critical evaluation of its meaning. But before we get to that, let me set the scene a bit for you.
The overarching question in the back of the jury’s mind as they foraged through all the work was this: “Are the projects appropriate manifestations of the GND’s ethos and intent, and if so, how?” To evaluate this, the work was superimposed onto the tenets of HR 109, the non-binding congressional resolution introduced on February 7, 2019, by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Senator Ed Markey (MA). HR 109 calls on Congress to pass legislation that would achieve the following within ten years:
Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers; 2) create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; 3) invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century; 4) secure for all people of the United States for generations to come, clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment; and finally, 5) promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.
The improbability of this notwithstanding, HR 109—delivered with AOC’s steely certainty—cut through all the bullshit of contemporary politics with a sense of urgency, authenticity, and above all, the possibility that history really is up to us. By triangulating environmentalism, decarbonization, and jobs around the fulcrum of social justice, HR 109 distinguishes itself from the last half a century or so of environmentalism which, arguably, suffered from too singular a preoccupation with “nature.” For a generation born into a climate changed world and now looking for answers, HR 109 is both prophetic and, at least insofar as it recalls the New Deal, useful.
Of course, as is the nature of political rhetoric, it is also just a bunch of platitudes. Apart from asking us to put all our faith in the heavy hand of government, HR 109 tells us nothing about how we actually get from the world we currently live in to the one in which it says we should. In broad terms, the responses to this are still split along old lines: good old socialism on the one hand, and wicked capitalism on the other. Further to that, there is division within the left itself along a sliding scale that has eco-socialism at one end and eco-modernism at the other. As you would expect, eco-socialists blame capitalism and its shameful colonial history for today’s global inequity and the climate crisis, whereas eco-modernists maintain the faith that free markets and technological innovation can yet solve the world’s socio-economic and environmental problems.
Both have their demons. For example, the eco-socialists are unable to explain—or have conveniently forgotten— socialism’s appalling social and environmental record. Nor can they really explain where all the energy will come from if fossil fuels are suddenly “abolished,” as they like to say. For their part, the eco-modernists downplay technology’s shocking history of unintended consequences and can’t explain how innovation alone can avoid anything but the perpetuation of neoliberal inequality as we know it. With the deployment of more solar, wind, and geothermal energy, the eco-modernists also perform the cardinal sin of touting nuclear energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, at least to tide us over until the holy grail of fusion is discovered.
In terms of their landscape visions, the eco-modernists see hi-tech cities “decoupled” from vast wilderness areas. What eco-socialists see instead is less clear, but if I had to guess, it would be a working landscape — the Jeffersonian grid rescaled for permaculture and renewable energy production with a Conservation Corps fanning out in all directions.
For the Green New Dealers, the only way to expiate their demons is massive government programs and investment based on the precedent of the original New Deal, only this time without the racism and quite so much concrete. In today’s political climate, however, both in America and the rest of the world, to expect this form of bold governance any time soon, seems at best, wishful thinking. Making matters worse, because it is a manifesto, not a policy, HR 109 has lent itself to the messianic and the Manichean on both the left and the right. Instead of adding to this, or recoiling into apocalyptic resignation, it is precisely in times like these that landscape architects have a role to play in giving vision and dimension to alternative futures, which is where the thought experiment of the Superstudio comes in.
The last time anything even remotely like the Superstudio happened was the so-called Landscape Exchange, an annual design competition for landscape architecture students in the U.S. that started in 1924 and ended in 1970. Reflecting the profession’s modesty, the projects in the Exchange were generally constrained to the design of gardens and parks on real sites, with real contours. It is interesting that just as the Exchange held its final competition in 1970, Ian McHarg, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote Design with Nature. And here we are, some 50 or so years later, asking students not to design a park or a garden, but to take a shot at nothing less than an entirely new economy and a new society to go with it.
For some, this is landscape architecture reaching its world-changing potential; for others it’s just more overreach that can only lead to the craft’s undoing. Either way, the LAF has to be congratulated for being the first design-related organization in the world to take HR 109 at its word and rally its troops for a creative response. And so too, we must congratulate the teachers, students, and a handful of professionals who stepped up. Kudos to them for facing up to the almost impossible challenge of, per the brief, translating HR 109 “… into actual projects and [showing] where, as a matter of priority these projects should take place, what will they look like, who will they serve, and how will they roll out.”
So, good event, but what about the work?
The jury organized the work into 6 categories based on 6 verbs: Adapt, Cultivate, Empower, Energize, Remediate, and Retrofit. These already tell you a lot about the ethos and focus of work produced under the banner of the Green New Deal. In this sense the perfect GND project would be about adapting to climate change, cultivating the land, empowering marginalized people, (re)energizing with renewables, remediating brownfields, and retrofitting existing buildings and existing infrastructure. This is very a big ask of any landscape project, but, with remarkable consistency, all the submissions stuck to the script and got busy putting these verbs into action. By prioritizing relationships between jobs, justice, and environmentalism and then inscribing them in real space, even if only as a gesture, the Superstudio marks a significant change in sensibility. Participants also made very deliberate choices about where to focus their work and the sorts of programs it should involve. Contrary to where the neo-liberal design dollar has tended to go, almost all Superstudio submissions make a point of allocating resources and design services to neglected communities. And even though, as an academic exercise, participants obviously had the luxury of choice in this regard, taken as a whole, the Superstudio work emphasizes a long overdue reorientation that developers, city authorities, and the profession need to reckon with.
Having pegged out the relevant territory, the question then of course is what, especially, makes a GND project that landscape architects wouldn’t just do anyways? And this is where things become a little predictable.
To summarize, the majority of projects submitted to the Superstudio are things like:
• Streetscape retrofits
• Community gardens and parks
• Small-scale flood mitigation
• Lots of tree planting
• Soil remediation
• Urban farming and food co-ops
• Community centers
• Research centers
• Clean brownfields
• Small solar arrays
• Green school yards
• Recycling centers
• Stream daylighting
• And very occasionally some buildings labeled as “affordable housing” or “green jobs districts.”
As well as their predictability, the submissions also share similar graphic qualities. Crammed with statistics, diagrams, flow charts and slogans, the boards often look like DIY manuals, bureaucratic brochures, school posters, and the sort of stuff left lying around after a community workshop. The actual designs can be hard to find, and when they do appear, the hand of the designer tends only to offer outlines along with some optimistic Photoshop showing “the community” enthusiastically filling in the blanks. Whereas on the other side of town, the mainstream profession makes everything look like a stylish walk in the park, GND landscapes tend to have the feel of a union picnic. And maybe, at the neighborhood scale this kind of communitarian, restorative, eco-agrarian, anti-aesthetic is what a GND ecotopia would really be like. And maybe that’s a good “bottom-up” thing, but the question that has to be asked, as with any landscape representation, is what are these happy, folksy images not showing us? What’s outside the frame? What’s over the horizon?
The answers relate to the bigger questions implicated in, but not addressed by HR 109. For example, if fossil fuels are abolished, or quickly phased out, how is the new world phased in? Where does all the new energy come from, exactly? How do we make everything we are accustomed to, without fossil fuels? Or if lifestyles must change, how and in what way? What might be the daily and collective rituals of a post-fossil fueled world and the spaces these play out in? How would lifestyle changes apply to people who don’t have the luxury of making environmentally benevolent choices? How will we sequester the carbon from the skies and filter the nitrogen from the ground at a scale commensurate with the issues? How will America, let alone the world, feed itself without industrial fertilizer and do so without more deforestation? How do we secure the water supply? What, in addition to the hard labor of landscape restoration, are the new “green jobs?” Where are they and how do I get to them? And if there is to be a new Conservation Corps, what is its plan of action? How do we accommodate the human and non-human migrations that climate change will force? Where will at least another 100 million Americans this century live? How will the coast be reorganized to absorb rising seas? How will the suburbs, where most people currently live, be retrofitted? The list goes on.
To be fair, only a fool would pretend to have the answers to these questions. But instead of just fast-forwarding to a world without fossil fuels and relabeling it with lots of GND goodies, we have to sit longer with the wicked and often times contradictory nature of the issues. We have to scope them across the full range of scales they entail. We have to understand them before we pretend to change them, and when we do, we have to get inside their systemic natures and be forensic about where they could be inflected, disrupted, rerouted, reimagined and reinvented. And obviously this can’t be done by landscape architects or through the medium of landscape alone. Weaning civilization off fossil fuels in the context of a rapidly changing planetary climate is the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced, so let’s not make it look simple.To do so is not design, it’s just illustration, or worse, propaganda.
A few submissions that went somewhat further afield in their inquiries and propositions concerned topics such as:
• Fire management and forestry practices
• Big riparian corridors
• Reimagining regions through BIPOC lenses
• Prison reuse
• Tools for community scenario planning
• Assertions of indigenous land rights
• Non-romantic takes on offshore wind farms
• Light rail corridors
• New trails
• Freeway removal
And one stand-out submission declared “the GND will be won or lost at scale”, and called for land-use planning on a national scale. Again, there is nothing really new in any of this, but the scale and emphasis of this second tranche of work seems more apropos.
So where does this leave us? Well, I guess the politicians who support the GND will see it as an endorsement. They might also breathe a sigh of relief that, at least according to landscape architects, their world-changing policies seem to be relatively innocuous. On the other hand, if they are looking for images to “stir men’s blood,” or even just something an advertising agency could use to help persuade Americans to relinquish their fossil-fueled superpowers, they will be disappointed.
Compared to how designers have previously responded to historical moments of heady socialist speculation —for example, the Russian constructivists, the modernists and the megastructuralists—it is remarkable how little speculation there is in the Superstudio results. And I don’t mean this pejoratively. Since its more about the undoing of a world than the building of a new one per se, the GND doesn’t lend itself to a spectacular architectural imagination. It does however lend itself to the more subtle threads of the landscape imagination. But while the Superstudio work has shown how that landscape might take shape at a local level, it has not shown how the sprawling landscape of modernity will be retrofitted and restructured. Along the eco-socialism—eco-modernism scale, studios across the nation have clearly tended more toward to the former, and as such, the work is more an illustration of local socio-political aspirations and allegiances, than it is about technical invention and aesthetic exploration.
Like Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Karl Marx called for a blurring of city and country. But he also ridiculed literary and architectural utopias. Going by the Superstudio work one could be excused for thinking that, following in his footsteps, landscape architects working in the spirit of the GND also have very little interest in, if not an actual disdain for aesthetics. This is a mistake. In some GND-related polemic, it is argued that since design is a mechanism through which capitalism and the climate crisis is reproduced, design as we know it is fundamentally incapable of broaching the interrelated social, environmental, and economic issues HR 109 sets out. Adolpho Natalini, the nominal head of the original Superstudio, made more or less the same point back in 1971, writing that “if design is merely an inducement to consume…and if it merely formalizes unjust social divisions…then we must reject design.” But he didn’t mean we abandon aesthetics. On the contrary, for years, in the spirit of rejecting a certain kind of design, Superstudio continued to produce powerfully utopian and dystopian imagery that captured and influenced its zeitgeist. Make of this what you will, but not one submission to the LAF Superstudio dared present a really utopian or dystopian version of the GND.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should now just make trippy images of alternate realities. But I am asking whether by ignoring the way in which the evolution of modernity into a post-fossil fuel phase is an aesthetic project, we’ve not only left the GND with an image problem, but also left ourselves with no alternatives except deference to “the community” on the one hand and rolling out government-issue green infrastructure on the other. Of course, this is good work and lots of it must be done, and landscape architects are the right people to do it. But I have this terrible feeling that beyond the frame, over the horizon, history is being determined by people looking at a very different set of drawings.
Grounding the Green New Deal: A Summit on Policy, Design, and Advocacy will be held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. on April 9. Learn more and purchase tickets.
Richard Weller, ASLA, is the Martin and Margy Meyerson chair of urbanism, professor and chair of landscape architecture, and co-director of the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Tragedy, protest, insurrection, and political turmoil have led to a renewed awareness of racial injustice and democratic instability. These issues create new challenges for users and designers of public spaces in America. Cultural spasms have resulted in contested public spaces — sites of killings, protests in streets and parks, and forgotten burial grounds. These spaces need a new form of environmental justice.
While environmental justice is most often viewed from the perspective of the impacts of pollution on people, land, water, and air, the spaces stained by the killing of Black Americans and soiled by a history of slavery and white supremacy require environmental justice too. Because they also disproportionately affect Black and brown communities.
As a result, landscape architects, architects, urban designers, and planners are now at the center of a shifting racial, political, and spatial dialogue. Designers are called to examine their place in a country built on systemic racism. There are new opportunities to defeat bias and work toward spatial equity as “designer citizens.”
The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota changed the American and global discourse on race and justice. The protests that followed this tragic event set in motion the removal of Confederate monuments and marches at the White House. There were multicultural marches against police brutality and extensive grassroots and academic discussions about racism in America. There are far more Black victims of racism at the hands of police, but the brutal imagery of George Floyd’s murder sparked a collective humanity within the American and global public.
Due to the unnecessary death of yet another Black man, the veil of white supremacy and entitlement has been again uncovered. The outpouring of support was swift and protest marches included people of all colors for the first time in decades. However, the ferocity of the government’s response in the form of more police brutality, protester arrests, and the labeling of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) organization as a negative, socialist, left-wing group were just as swift.
During protests in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser fought this false narrative about BLM by designating the Black Lives Matter Plaza as a multi-block-long street mural directly in the face of the White House. The plaza, in a sense, has become one of the first physical protest responses in the form of public art and place. Mayor Bowser reflected on her reason for taking this action. “We had the opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our city. That message is to the American people that Black lives matter, Black humanity matters, and we as a city raise that up.”
The dialogue that arose from George Floyd’s murder has included public protest rights, public space creation and appropriation, and, most importantly, the disposition of Confederate monuments. Black Lives Matter Plaza and Confederate monuments led to a robust discussion within the landscape architecture, architecture, and planning professions concerning race and place. How does one memorialize places of protest and also de-memorialize places of incomplete historical interpretation?
Environmental justice typically involves reducing the inequitable distribution of pollutants and hazards in communities of color. But we need to recognize that police killings and other homicides also disproportionately impact communities of color. A broader definition of environmental justice can then also include efforts to memorialize tragic events in public spaces and secure and honor these spaces. While designs for these issues will continue to evolve, the need to use public space to advance environmental justice will never change. There will always be a need to better represent a true reading of history.
In a Smithsonian article, Peter Schwartzstein speaks of the connections between urban space and successful public protest. He suggest that “what’s notable, perhaps, about the ongoing protests in the U.S. and many [countries] abroad is the extent to which differing urban designs can determine a movement’s success and sometimes even propel different outcomes for the same grievances.” He further speaks of the role of designers and the history of public space. He indicates that “after decades of tightening constraints, in which public space has shrunk, shifted, or vanished, scholars suggest that urban design itself will only become even more of a protest influence in the coming years.”
On the other hand, the honest recording of history cannot be subjected to changing facts. Historians such as Carl Becker suggest “that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power — an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.” In this sense, landscape architects can be advocates of a more complete history in the design and redesign of public spaces. In the case of Confederate monuments, the authentic history is clear and not fluid.
Karen L. Fox clarifies this authenticity argument in The New York Times, when she states that “the heyday of monument building, between 1890 and 1920, was also a time of extreme racial violence, as Southern whites pushed back against what little progress had been made by African-Americans in the decades after the Civil War. As monuments went up, so did the bodies of black men, women, and children during a long rash of lynching.”
These contemporary projects highlight the challenges ahead for designers as America deals with police violence, protest, a history of systemic racism, and other social issues. The U.S. Capitol Grounds is the next test facing landscape architects, because of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol and the need for increased security.
A Memorial of Protest and Pain
Changing understandings of social, cultural, and political injustice provide new opportunities for landscape architects to participate as citizens. The increased awareness of racial injustice creates opportunity for landscape architects to acknowledge this systemic problem that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. The deaths that occur from these police incidents leave not only broken families and communities, but also places and spaces of pain and conflict. The challenge for designers is how to create spaces that acknowledge the life of those killed, respect the context of the place, speak to racial injustice, and create a sense of resolution.
The November 22, 2014 death of Tamir Rice by police officers in Cleveland is a questionable incident that did not result in charges against the police officers involved. An article in The New York Times by reporters Shaila Dewan and Richard A. Oppel, Jr. poignantly describe Tamir’s playful visit to the park with a friend, including the toy airsoft-style gun he carried.
After a neighbor called police to report a child in the park with a gun, which the caller described as perhaps a toy gun, Dewan and Oppel indicate that “with the gun tucked away, he walked to the edge of the gazebo. He might have been wandering aimlessly, or he might have been attracted by the sight of a squad car barreling across the lawn. Seconds later, the boy lay dying from a police officer’s bullet…But the boy, Tamir Rice, was only 12.” The death of this Black child validates the protest that followed and justifies the memorial that his mother worked so hard to realize.
Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, has since created the Tamir Rice Foundation to advance social justice and remember her son through a memorial within the Frank E. Cudell Recreation Center and park area. The memorial will be located at the site of the gazebo where Tamir was killed. These memorials are becoming far too common, but they can create a place or remembrance within a new type of landscape.
In 2020, the Tamir Rice Memorial project began moving quickly with the solicitation for designers and the hiring of the Black landscape architecture firm, Design Jones, LLC, to design the memorial. The Cleveland-based firm Deru Landscape Architecture is the team landscape architect of record. Samaria Rice and her daughter, Tajai, as well as community members, were fully engaged in the development of all memorial design concepts.
As outlined by the design team, “the Tamir Rice Memorial makes sacred a space of devastating injustice in the remembrance of a vibrant young Black child full of possibilities. It uses the forms of the butterfly and the box to signify what Tamir was, the flight of freedom, and what society assigned for him, the darkness of confinement.” The heart of the memorial is an engraved granite stone with Tamir’s image and text that memorializes his life. The butterfly garden was originally built with the help of Tamir’s sister, Tajai, and her friends as a 2016 memorial to her brother. Funding for the garden was provided by the Cleveland City Council.
The pathway leading to this memorial stone embodies the evolution of Tamir’s life and incorporates and revitalizes the existing butterfly garden, which also becomes a creative beginning to the memorial space. The curved pathway and dry creek establish a sustainable mitigation area for stormwater runoff. As the years pass, there will be time to understand if and how this memorial heals a community and, in particular, a family that remains in pain.
The original gazebo where Tamir was killed was dismantled and moved to Chicago with the assistance of the Rebuild Foundation. Artist and activist Theaster Gates, the CEO and founder of the foundation, was instrumental in assisting Samaria Rice with this pivotal relocation and memorial.
“The reconstructed gazebo with the original concrete picnic table now sits on the north lawn of 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., rededicated as a platform, a stage, a prospect from which to reckon with, argue over, and jointly heal,” said Adam Green, associate professor at the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture in The Chicago Tribune. A spokesman for the Rice family has indicated that the Chicago gazebo site will not be its final location: “the gazebo [is] going back to Cleveland and finding a permanent home.”
Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, principal at Design Jones LLC and professor and director of landscape architecture at University of Texas at Arlington, states that “I was inspired and moved by Samaria Rice’s speaking to me of the beauty of her son and the horrific tragedy of this event. Her words clearly shaped my hand while designing the memorial.”
A Memorial of Acknowledgement
The murder of George Floyd not only created a global racial justice protest movement, but also reignited the decades long debate over how to address the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols around the country. However, history is clear relating to why Confederate monuments exist and why monument removals are necessary. Southern pride is most often used as the rationale for not removing Confederate monuments.
However, Keisha Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, suggest that these defenders “fail to acknowledge that Confederate monuments and symbols emerged in an effort to intimidate Black Americans and uphold a revisionist-and racist-version of history. In effect, these monuments and symbols already do the work of erasing history — the very thing their defenders now accuse protesters of doing by demanding their removal.”
Against the backdrop of a Unite the Right rally on August 11-12, 2017 organized by white supremacist protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, a team of designers and community members were busy at work designing the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVA.
The juxtaposition of these two activities — a revisionist protest to preserve remnants of the Confederacy and a historical acknowledgement of slavery’s damages to Black Americans — is striking. During the Unite the Right rally, there were clashes between the protesters, which resulted in the tragic death of 32-year old woman, Heather D. Heyer, a Charlottesville resident, by an irate white supremacist driving through a crowd of protesters. Conversely, the enslaved laborers memorial team efforts resulted in the April 11, 2020 dedication of a memorial that acknowledges the lives of enslaved laborers who were owned and rented by UVA.
The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers stands in honor and recognition of a buried history that has been honestly brought to the surface and stands in stark contrast to the General Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park. The memorial was designed by Höweler + Yoon Architecture, including Eric Höweler, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Meejin Yoon, Dean at Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. They collaborated with historian and designer Dr. Mabel O. Wilson, professor at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and founder of Studio&. They also collaborated with Gregg Bleam, FASLA, a landscape architect, community facilitator Dr. Frank Dukes, and artist Eto Otitigbe.
The memorial responds to the fraught history of UVA with an open form, a sweeping gesture in stone that is welcoming and inclusive as if waiting for the visitor to complete the memorial. It is a form that is open in terms of meaning, alluding to the African ”ring shout” and is space of shelter and gathering.
“The Memorial is also open ended in that it is unfinished, with the list of names remaining conspicuously incomplete. The unfinished nature of the memorial also alludes to the historic legacy of slavery and the ongoing work in the present that needs to be done to address questions of bias and anti-Black racism today,” said Eric Höweler. This memorial reminds us that history may be reinterpreted based on biases. But the true reading of history guards against revisionist rhetoric and personal bias.
The discussion of acknowledging systemic racism and the ownership and sale of slaves to sustain personal or institutional wealth was started within the academy. Brown University, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UVA, and other universities have led this reconciliation with historical reviews and action plans, which is the beginning of a model for corporations, cities, and other seats of power.
In 2013, Dr. Marcus Martin, Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity at UVA, proposed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University to further study the history of slave ownership by the university. The Commission’s core goal was to “explore and report on UVA’s historical relationship with slavery, highlighting opportunities for recognition and commemoration.”
The design team described this history in this powerful statement:
“An estimated 4,000 enslaved persons worked on the Grounds of UVA between 1817 and 1865, when the Union Army liberated the enslaved of Albermarle County. Owned and rented by the University, they created and maintained its famous grounds, pavilions, and Rotunda. The memorial’s commemorative forms and historical inscriptions acknowledge the dualities of enslavement — the pain of bondage and hope for the future. It celebrates the bonds of community that nurtured resistance and resilience to the dehumanizing violence that shaped the everyday experience of enslaved life at UVA. In doing so, the memorial creates a vital public place to understand, learn, and remember their contribution to the University.”
This particular memorial in the front yard of Thomas Jefferson’s vision is indeed environmental justice on a grand scale. The project is bold, and its form grounds the memorial in a way that creates a sense the circular form rises from the Earth as the voice of the forgotten slave laborers.
As Dr. Mabel Wilson at Columbia University states in the team design statement, “this memorial confronts a campus whose very architecture was conceived to express the highest aspirations of our democratic society yet, at the same time, was literally designed to obscure the oppression of the enslaved individuals who realized Jefferson’s vision and sustained life on campus for nearly 50 years. [The Memorial] provides a much-needed space for active engagement with the grim reality of slavery and systemic racism, the repercussions of which the nation is still wrestling with today.”
Only eight months after George Floyd’s murder on May 25, the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. became another shocking bookend to the May 25 incident, creating a cultural tsunami. Americans and the world have awakened to the reality that the authenticity of democracy in the country is, in fact, a conceit. There is an inauthenticity of citizenship that again forces America to acknowledge its past and the present history of racial injustices.
David Brooks, a columnist with The New York Times, reflected on January 6 in terms of morality when he writes “human beings exist at moral dimensions both too lofty and more savage than the contemporary American mind normally considers. The mob that invaded that building [the Capitol] Wednesday exposed the abyss. This week wasn’t just an atrocity, it was a glimpse into an atavistic nativism that always threatens to grip the American soul. The rampage reminded us that if Black people had done this, the hallways would be red with blood.” Brooks provides a nuanced argument that even when there is democratic protest by a mostly Black group, as opposed to undemocratic insurrection by a mostly white group, there is inequality and obvious bias.
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol presents yet another spatial challenge — how to protect the Capitol and also provide a space of democratic movement for Americans. For many months, the U.S. Capitol Police took the position that the seven-foot-high fencing should stay in place. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and many Congressional Representatives, along with ASLA, successfully argued that the fences were undemocratic. There is no doubt that landscape architects will be called into creative action to craft a long-term spatial mediation.
The Tamir Rice Memorial and the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVA are linked. They seek to resolve issues of race and place, specifically addressing the lives of Black Americans. These places continue to bring attention and a degree of reconciliation to police violence and the buried history of slavery in America. As these projects show, there is a great need to design more solutions to racial injustice. Similar sites will only increase in number, requiring the need to sensitively provide creative solutions that uplift and educate the public.
January 6 shows us that environmental justice related to race and space will be dominant for some time to come. This new environmental justice offers landscape architects opportunities to demonstrate their citizenship through a honest acknowledgment of the continuing racial and spatial disparities and ugly racial history of the United States. If we want to design more democratic public spaces across America, we must pledge to achieve authenticity rooted in history and facts.
Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA, is cofounder and principal of PUSH studio in Washington, D.C., and founder and former president of the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN). His landscape architecture projects include garden designs, urban waterfronts, community redevelopment, playgrounds and memorial monument design. He has directed graduate landscape architecture programs at two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) — Florida A&M University and Morgan State University.
This article is adapted and reprinted by permission of Avenues, a publication of the Urban Design Committee of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Addressing the climate crisis will require an unprecedented scale, scope, and pace of landscape transformation. There is an essential role for the built environment disciplines in re-imagining this future and translating the goals of decarbonization, jobs, and justice into on-the-ground practices and built works.
Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, Director, Federal Government Affairs at ASLA
Dana Bourland, The JPB Foundation
Kevin Bush, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Billy Fleming, ASLA, Weitzman School of Design McHarg Center
Bryan Lee Jr., Colloquate
Kate Orff, FASLA, Columbia Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes
Colette Pichon Battle, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy
Nikil Saval, Pennsylvania State Senate
Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The summit builds from the Green New Deal Superstudio, a year-long open call that attracted the participation of more than 3,000 students and practitioners in the built environment disciplines. Some 670 design and planning projects were submitted to give form to the goals of the movement-led vision. A select set will be on display during the event.
The summit is being presented in partnership with the NBM as part of its Climate Action Weekend and Climate Action/Building/Community (ABC) program series. The Museum is presenting a family and community event the following day on April 10, Planet Curious – A World of Climate Curiosity, which is open to the public, free of charge.
In its inaugural year, the program will provide 10 women of color with a two-year, personalized experience that includes approximately $3,500 to cover the cost of the four sections of the Landscape Architectural Registration Exam (LARE), along with exam preparation courses, resources, and mentorship from a licensed landscape architect.
According to 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 6.3 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 and Pacific Islander members in its data.
A recent report by The Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing found that among highly complex, technical fields, such as landscape architecture, a license narrows the gender-driven wage gap by about a third and the race-driven wage gap by about half.
The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Board (CLARB)’s Council Record data shows that women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are highly underrepresented among the profession: Only 7 percent of landscape architects are non-white and only 30 percent of landscape architects are women.
“The statistics are telling, and it is important we make major strides to ensure the makeup of the profession closely mirrors the communities they serve,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “We need to address these gaps, and women of color achieving licensure is a part of the solution.”
“As stated in ASLA’s Racial Equity Plan of Action released in 2021, we are committed to fostering equity and inclusion within the profession There is much more work to be done, but we believe this program is an important step towards meeting those goals,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
ASLA believes licensure is vital to protecting public health, safety, and welfare. Licensure also signifies a level of professional competency and can lead to greater career and business success. However, there can be significant barriers to licensure. Aside from the cost of a landscape architecture education, candidates must also pass the rigorous, four-part LARE.
The ASLA Women of Color Licensure Advancement Program was initiated with a generous $100,000 donation by former ASLA President Wendy Miller, FASLA, and James Barefoot; Marq Truscott, FASLA; Rachel Ragatz Truscott, ASLA; and CLARB.
The ASLA Awards Program is the oldest and most prestigious in the landscape architecture profession. They honor the most innovative landscape architecture projects and the brightest ideas from up-and-coming landscape architecture students.
“The ASLA Professional and Student Awards recognize the most impactful work in the profession,” said Eugenia Martin, FASLA, President of ASLA. “Our professional winners advance planning and design at all scales, while our student winners are our future design leaders. Each year, the ASLA Awards increase globally, with submissions from around the world.”
Award recipients receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine and are honored at a special Awards Presentation ceremony in the fall.
ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.
The 2022 Professional Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Dennis Otsuji, FASLA – Wimmer Yamada and Caughey
Juan Antonio Bueno, FASLA – Falcon + Bueno
David Garce, (Catawba), ASLA – GSBS Architects (Retired)
Kimberly Garza, ASLA – ATLAS Lab
Zack Mortice – Design Journalist
Taner Ozdil, ASLA – The University of Texas at Arlington (Representing CELA)
Lesley Roth, FASLA – Lamar Johnson Collaborative
Glenn LaRue Smith, FASLA – PUSH Studio
Matty A. Williams – City of Detroit, Planning & Development
Gena Wirth, ASLA – SCAPE Landscape Architecture
Emily Vogler – Rhode Island School of Design (Representing LAF)
ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence.
The 2022 Student Awards Jury includes:
Chair: Mark Hough, FASLA – Duke University
Monique Bassey, ASLA – Lamar Johnson Collaborative
Jessica Canfield, ASLA – Kansas State University
Aida Curtis, ASLA – Curtis + Rogers Design Studio South
Latoya Kamdang, AIA – Moody Nolan
SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA – VIRIDIS Design Group
Christopher Nolan, FASLA – Central Park Conservancy