And last fall at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the administration released the “first national strategy on nature-based solutions,” a roadmap that offers “strategic recommendations” to “unlock the full potential” of these approaches to “address climate change, nature loss, and inequity.” In other words, the administration believes if planned and designed well, nature-based solutions can provide integrated carbon drawdown, resilience, biodiversity, and equity benefits.
In Miami, Harris argued that “natural infrastructure reduces the impact of storm surges and hurricanes. And by the way, natural infrastructure is often more effective than concrete barriers and retaining walls.”
Earlier this year, Harris spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Miami, where landscape architect Kate Orff, FASLA, founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture, also presented. Perhaps it was there that Harris and her team learned about Living Breakwaters in Staten Island, New York City, which leverages oyster reefs to reduce the impact of storm surges.
Back in Miami for Earth Day, Harris said “we will restore oyster reefs. And that work will diminish the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes and clean our oceans by filtering out polluted runoff from our cities.”
Harris made clear that the benefits of nature-based solutions aren’t theoretical. “All of this makes sense. And it works! It is very doable; it is within our grasp. And that is why I am so optimistic about all of this.”
The Vice President also recognized the economic benefits of designing with nature to address climate change. “These investments will not only protect our environment but also strengthen our economy. For example, here in Florida, our work will create jobs for construction workers, environmental engineers, and landscape architects.”
Landscape architect Aida Curtis, ASLA, co-founder of Curtis + Rogers Design Studio, attended Harris’ speech in Miami. She was personally invited by the White House because of her long-time leadership on nature-based solutions in Miami.
Curtis’ team instead “envisioned vegetated shorelines with mangroves along with strategically-placed bermed islands in the Bay that would attenuate wave action during storm surges. This is a grey/green solution, not all nature-based, but it would be much better for the community and environment and increase park access.”
“Vice President Harris’ recognition that nature-based solutions can be more effective than concrete barriers and walls was enlightening. Her optimism and commitment to coastal communities gives me hope for Miami. It gives me a huge boost to continue our efforts to advocate for and design nature-based solutions,” Curtis told us.
And on a personal level, “it was amazing to hear the Vice President recognize the work that we — landscape architects — do on climate adaptation and resilience. The fact that nature-based solutions was at the heart of her message gives me great encouragement that we are on the right path.”
Harris announced that $562 million in IRA funds will go to a few key NOAA-managed programs. This is because “demand for funding focused on preparing for and adapting to climate change is high,” NOAA states. Funding requests made by communities to date have exceeded what is available.
Of the $526 million, $477 million will be dedicated to “high-impact projects” that provide multiple benefits at once:
“creating climate solutions by strengthening coastal communities’ ability to respond to extreme weather events, pollution and marine debris
restoring coastal habitats to help wildlife and humans thrive
building the capacity of underserved communities to address climate hazards and supporting community-driven restoration
and creating jobs in local communities.”
$46 million will be distributed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation National Coastal Resilience Fund to “help communities prepare for increasing coastal flooding, sea-level rise and more intense storms, while improving thousands of acres of coastal habitats.”
And $39.1 million in non-competitive funding will go to 34 state and territorial coastal management programs and 30 national estuarine research reserves.
According to NOAA, these programs provide “essential planning, policy development and implementation, research, education, and collaborative engagement with communities.” The goal is to “protect coastal and estuarine ecosystems important for the resilience of coastal economies and the health of coastal environments.”
Deb Guenther, FASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, is a partner and landscape architect at Mithun, based in Seattle, Washington. She was a Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow from 2021-2022 and awarded the President’s Medal by the American Society of Landscape Architect in 2010.
Equity is increasingly being seen as central to landscape architects’ climate action work. How do you define equity in your planning and design work? And what about terms like climate equity and climate justice?
We spend time discussing equity for each project, even if the project doesn’t explicitly have equity goals. It’s different for each community.
We focus on understanding the historical injustices that have happened over time and how those show up in day-to-day lives today. Disproportionate underinvestments in communities have impacts. We try to understand how those show up in power dynamics of not only race and gender but also income and class. We want to be able to understand the power dynamics before we come in the room.
Climate injustices have disproportionately affected communities of color. Often these communities have been redlined, are lower lying, and experience more flooding, or have less trees and experience more intense summer heat. These communities often don’t have the infrastructure to prevent flooding.
We need to build trust with communities to be able to do effective work and learn with community members. I think the big takeaway for me from the fellowship was that I was just catching up to a lot of the things that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have known for a long time.
People with the lived experience in the community are the greatest resource for finding the solutions. We can’t do work that is meaningful to communities without first investing time. So all of that comes back to: how can we build a design process that is more relational and less transactional? How do we do the pre-design work that leads to greater trust?
Community design centers are ready to do this long-term, place-based work. Partnering with a community over time is a different exercise with different results than coming in and out of a community. Staying with a community builds understanding.
I have also heard about flood control districts and park districts that are starting to band together regionally because they know they can’t address all the climate adaptation needs individually as agencies. So we need to take a broader or regional view, and at the same time, look at what community leaders know about their specific neighborhoods. It’s a back and forth, regional and local.
We can’t move climate justice work forward and do our best work without building trust first. Climate work is so urgent that we have to go slow to go fast. We have to take the time to build the trust in order to be able to move quickly enough to respond to climate in effective way.
You’re a partner at Mithun, a mission-driven integrated design firm that began in Seattle, Washington, and later expanded to offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Washington State and elsewhere, Mithun is partnering with tribes on a range of planning and design projects. What have you learned working with tribes and their approaches to long-term sustainability and resilience? And what are some examples of how their ethos has been translated into landscape architecture projects with your firm?
We are so grateful for the relationships we have with First Nations. Twenty years ago we were learning about co-design and co-creation through our engagements with First Nations.
We were going to their events. We were having meals with the elders. We were getting to know sites together by sleeping overnight in the sagebrush steppe in eastern Washington while working with the Wanapum on their Heritage Center. We were invited to share in some very special ceremonies. We were getting to know each other and each other’s culture in a deeper way.
We also learned about holding the capacity for difficult conversations. As facilitators of these conversations, we’ve learned a lot over the years about how to allow those uncomfortable conversations to happen, how we can have those together in a room and still walk out together at the end and be better for it. That’s a big lesson learned over the years.
The importance of investing in youth is another area where we’ve learned so much from First Nations. The canoe journey is a multi-tribal event that happens every other year among many of the tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Youth are reclaiming their connection to traditional lifeways through a canoe journey where they travel to a hosting tribe. They come together for a major gathering at the end. Preparing for these journeys influences many youth.
And it had a direct result creating the House of Awakened Culture that we designed with the Suquamish tribe. They built that project in anticipation of hosting a canoe journey. Now they can also host future canoe journeys and larger gatherings as a tribe.
The Sea2City Design Challenge in Vancouver, Canada led to an exciting re-imagining of False Creek, a central inlet in the city. Mithun worked with representatives and cultural advisors from Host Nations, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh, and the community to envision a decolonized approach to coastal climate adaptation planning. What do decolonized landscapes look like? And how did you leverage traditional tribal communications forms, including spoken word and storytelling, to envision this decolonization process?
We went directly to the Host Nation cultural advisors, Tsleil-Waututh Nation knowledge keeper Charlene (Char) Aleck, and Squamish artist Cory Douglas and asked: what does a decolonized landscape look like to you? They wanted to imagine a place where they feel like they belonged. Right now, the way the False Creek area is set up, there aren’t many places where they feel they belong.
One of the places on seawall promenade that resonated with Cory was this cluster of cedar trees peeking out of the asphalt. So we built on the idea of the cedars, harvesting plants and food for cultural uses, and being able to be in a place where land and water is nourishing. Those are the ways of belonging they were speaking to.
A significant moment in this project is when went on a boat ride up and down False Creek with Char and Cory and the team. During that boat ride, we heard from Char about reciprocity and exchange, what is given and what is taken, and how that all influences their cultural outlook on what it means to have a place they belong in.
Afterwards, we threw out all of our design work and started again with this idea of going back to the historic natural shoreline. We have to go back to where things were taken. Not only does that make sense from a sea level rise protections, flooding, contamination standpoint, but it also makes sense from a reciprocity standpoint. Decolonized landscapes are about finding the ways to ensure people feel like they belong.
It is interesting to think that our next experiences as landscape architects may be about deconstruction rather than construction. The return to the historic shoreline is predicated on buildings that are aging out. Instead of replacing buildings that have aged out, we can rezone upland areas that can take more development and not displace people or businesses. We can plan for the gradual movement of people and businesses and housing up slope. This is a way of building in protections against sea level rise and allowing for marine life to flourish. It’s also a way to clean a contaminated waterway over time.
As part of Bay Area Resilient by Design Challenge, Mithun led an interdisciplinary team of ecological, design, planning, economic, and social justice organizations to create ouR-HOME, a comprehensive planning effort in Richmond, California, a low-income community that has experienced a range of environmental injustices and is facing significant sea level rise and flooding impacts. The Resilient by Design effort sought to envision what structural equity looks like, how to protect the community from gentrification and displacement, and create new wealth, while also using nature to increase resilience to future climate impacts. It’s a great example of equity-based climate adaptation work. How did those ideas came together and how they are being pursued in projects that have evolved from the planning effort?
This is a very special project and place with a lot of wonderful people. There’s such a strong environmental justice history in North Richmond. This community has had to build their sense of self-determination because they were ignored, redlined, and subject to disinvestment.
So there are multiple generations of community leaders, like Whitney Dotson, Cynthia Jordan, Dr. Henry Clark, Annie King-Meredith, Princess Robinson who have led and are leading significant change. They are working in so many ways to advance locally-driven solutions.
The Bay Area tends to approach things regionally. A lot of Resilient by Design was happening at the regional level. But that wasn’t going create change in North Richmond because of its history.
As part of the shoreline collaboration plan, we’re now working on what the governance strategy can be with the community. The goal is to evaluate how to connect immediate benefits from the work they’re doing on nature-based solutions. We’re designing a living levee there that will allow marine life to transition and protect the wastewater district facility that serves the entire West Contra Costa County. We’ve also co-designed with a community advisory group a five-mile strategy of collaboration between property owners that would protect a much larger swath of the neighborhood and other infrastructure.
Some of those direct benefits are building up community knowledge through a co-design process, workforce development, and land trusts that guard against gentrification. And there are projects that will provide more access to the shoreline through trails and destinations, like interpretive centers and overlooks.
A lot of the residents that were involved in the co-design process during Resilient by Design have remained involved as champions of various projects. Folks really grabbed on to the pieces they were interested in and shepherded those forward.
In the co-design process as part of Resilient by Design, we had public agency folks in the room with community residents, business leaders, various nonprofit organizations. They all knew each other before Resilient by Design. But they knew each other in the context of presenting information to each other, not really working shoulder to shoulder. During the process we conducted, they were working shoulder to shoulder to solve issues, having more casual dialogue. This is the main thing we heard at the end of the process — that resident advisors wanted this kind of work to continue.
What we noticed is that there is cyclical process with funding, right? There wasn’t a convener that could keep the group going until West Contra Costa County Wastewater District stepped up to do their work on the levee. They were able to bring a similar group together again.
As designers, we need to think about how we keep shoulder-to-shoulder dialogue going with communities, even when there isn’t a project driving it. So many relevant projects come out of those kinds of processes.
Mithun states that it uses affordable housing developments to create “active social hubs,” and it leverages its “integrated design approach” as a vehicle for social equity. Your firm’s landscape architects are often involved in these projects, weaving in green spaces, play areas, rooftop gardens, pedestrian bicycle access, and public art. A few projects — the Liberty Bank Building in Seattle, Washington, and Casa Adelante at 2060 Folsom in San Francisco — seems to highlight the value of landscape architects in these projects. Can you talk about how landscape architects on your team are shaping these projects?
Common space in affordable housing projects is such highly valued space. You can imagine when the goal is to house people, every square foot is going to be carefully scrutinized.
At the beginning of these projects, the landscape architect’s role at Mithun is to do that massaging, that working back and forth between the indoor and the outdoor space, to not only program the shared spaces outside but also the spaces inside.
We look at those adjacencies where people can run into each other naturally, where are they going to get their mail, where are they going to for daily life experiences. Running into each other causes people to know their neighbors and builds a stronger sense of community.
Those are the two areas where we’re shaping these projects the most. The first is being present at the beginning to do that shaping of how the common space is tied to the lifeways of the residents. And the second is figuring out how those adjacencies are built into the framework of the design. All the other stuff is gravy if you get the adjacencies right.
Mithun has invested in being a responsible design firm. It has offset all its emissions since 2004, offers bike parking at its offices, and finances employees’ home energy efficiency retrofits. It donates pro-bono design services, raises funds for local community groups, and its leaders are involved in the boards of civic organizations. How does Mithun plan to further evolve to address the climate crisis?
We are looking at the North Richmond work and thinking about how we can work geographically like that in other areas and build long-term relationships. We’ve been there now for seven years continuously and built a more relational way of working. Ultimately, we feel that is the most equitable way to work, because we have that deeper understanding and a shared sense of reciprocity.
We’re participating in conversations happening in communities that we’re a part of. And then we bring those ideas to our projects. We’re tying ideas together and building momentum. This is just how we live as a community, right?
We never want to underestimate the value of social resilience. The greatest predictor of survival in a crisis is how well you know your neighbors, your community. In a climate justice context, we want to model what we think is valuable for all communities. We want to design places where people can get to know each other, where they can practice adaptation together, and therefore be better prepared to work together when they need to respond to climate impacts.
“We heard from the community that they want the city to take better care of the park — to pick up trash, improve the bathrooms, reduce the pressure of invasive plants, and restore the landscape to optimal health in a thoughtful and steady way,” said Kristin Frederickson, ASLA, a principal at Reed Hilderbrand.
What the landscape architecture team created is a bold plan that balances immediate maintenance and restoration needs with steps to achieve a long-term vision of improved access, resilience, and equitable benefits. The 450-page plan will take multiple decades and more than $150 million to complete. “And the plan suggests that the city and community can’t pick and chose between addressing climate change, equity, historic preservation — these are synergistic elements, key principles meant to operate together.”
The revitalization of Franklin Park has been a long time coming. For decades, one of the city’s largest parks received little government investment and was instead left to the Franklin Park Coalition to steward and maintain. “They deserve a lot of credit — they have been holding this park together. There were times when visitors were actually driving through the park lawns,” Frederickson said.
The city’s history of racial inequities factors into this. Franklin Park is bordered by some of Boston’s most historically marginalized communities — Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roslindale — along with Jamaica Plain, a wealthier community.
Boston’s 2030 plan highlighted the need to invest in Franklin Park. “There was a realization that we need to stabilize the park in order to save it,” said John Kett, ASLA, principal in charge at Reed Hilderbrand.
The first step was to build trust with communities that have been promised support in the past, but didn’t see that translate into action. The first community engagement meeting, pre-pandemic, brought out more than 300 community members. “There was a lot of excitement but also skepticism,” Kett said.
These meetings brought up issues of representation. “Three-fourths of the surrounding neighborhoods are historically underserved. Residents from Jamaica Plain were very active and showing up, but we weren’t hearing much from the underserved communities at first.”
The Franklin Park Coalition, which had established community support and connections over decades, was key to increasing the involvement of these communities, particularly during the pandemic when the team relied on Zooms and online surveys. The coalition helped the team get hundreds of survey responses.
To build trust, Reed Hilderbrand, Agency Landscape + Planning, and MASS Design Group also participated in playhouse in the park, a long-running summer series. For years, community members have brought their lawn chairs and coolers to watch free performances.
“We set up a pop-up photography booth with Sahar Coston-Hardy, who was able to print portraits in the park, and put them up on clotheslines. People looked good, so by the end there was a line. It was a trust-building exercise with the community — and for them. They shared their stories about the park with us, too.”
Brie Hensold, Hon. ASLA, co-founder of Agency Landscape + Planning, explained that additional community engagement strategies included walking tours in the park and in-depth conversations with key constituencies — the groups that cared most about improving the golf course or tennis courts, restoring the woodlands, or enhancing the playhouse and its amphitheater. And to overcome the digital divide among community members, “we also went canvassing door to door to gather input.”
The result of this equitable community engagement is a plan that calls for spreading investments throughout the park, so that all the communities bordering the park see both immediate and long-term benefits.
In her announcement of the new plan to revitalize Franklin Park, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu highlighted two priorities.
“She focused on the need to restore the ecosystems in the park and also the need to appoint a dedicated park superintendent,” Kett said.
A slew of Boston and state agencies are involved in the park and its boundary areas. Establishing a leader who can move the plan forward was a key goal for the planning and design team.
The plan explored how the park could support affordable housing protections, and build capacity, create more local jobs, and develop the workforce, particularly through city government contracts to nearby vendors. These efforts will require multi-agency partnerships across the city government, which a superintendent can help facilitate.
“Given that trust with surrounding communities has been broken for decades, rebuilding that trust will be a slow process. We focused on only promising what we could deliver,” Kett said.
“The community wants to see continuous maintenance improvements and capital investments over time,” Hensold said. “Trust is a longer-term project.”
Through their journey with the community, the team learned that Olmsted’s design is still deeply appreciated. Even with a clear lack of maintenance and investment, the park still has a “rough beauty,” Frederickson said.
“People love this park; they just want it to be a better version of itself. At the core, people want the park to be taken care of.”
Olmsted’s design still resonates despite the insertion of a hospital, zoo, golf course, widened circuit road, and a four-lane road that diagonally cuts through the park.
“There is the sense that Olmsted reached a logical conclusion in Franklin Park, which is one of his later parks. He did less here; it’s more about putting the land forward,” Frederickson said.
Inspired by the rock outcroppings of the area, he reinforced the edges with stone walls and slopes, creating an “interior haven.” Today, that means that some of the park boundaries are “not super porous.” The plan focuses on “improving porosity where we can” through new accessible entrances better aligned with well-lit crosswalks and supported by new street improvements, parking, and bicycle infrastructure.
The core design of the park remains though. Olmsted followed the flow of “whale-shaped drumlin fields, lacing circulation through them.” The design team recommended reducing or eliminating vehicle access in parts of that circulation system to ensure the park feels safer for pedestrians and cyclists. “But the plan is not anti-car. We actually increase parking in areas,” Frederickson said.
And restoring the varied ecosystems in the park, including its marshes, meadows, and woodlands, remains a top priority for the community and the landscape architects. “It’s an incredible, moving place to be. Its rough beauty is its power. It just needs support.”
New Orleans experiences the worst urban heat island effect in the country, with temperatures nearly 9 F° higher than nearby natural areas. The city also lost more than 200,000 trees from Hurricane Katrina, dropping its overall tree canopy to just 18.5 percent.
But more importantly, the plan also seeks to equalize the canopy, so at least 10 percent of all 72 neighborhoods are covered in trees. Currently, more than half of neighborhoods are under the 10 percent goal.
Wes Michaels, ASLA, a founding partner at SMM, explained that some communities in the city are almost entirely concrete and asphalt and have canopies as low as 1 percent, while others, like the famous Garden District, have nearly 30 percent.
This causes an inequitable distribution of heat risks. “With Hurricane Ida, the foremost cause of death wasn’t flooding but heat. The storm knocked out electricity, so people were in their homes without air conditioning,” explained Emily Bullock, ASLA, a principal with SMM.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, trees and plants really do have a significant cooling benefit. “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Evapotranspiration, alone or in combination with shading, can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2–9°F (1–5°C).”
The New Orleans Reforestation Plan offers a new, more equitable model for reducing dangerous extreme heat — the number one climate killer — and flooding, while also lowering energy use.
“Conventional urban reforestation plans are focused on achieving an overall canopy percentage, and there is often an equity component. But this plan centers equity so that it frames all goals,” Bullock said.
“The plans we reviewed from other cities were all similar, kind of boilerplate. We needed a plan that recognizes the unique neighborhoods of New Orleans,” said Susannah Burley, executive director of SOUL. “We wanted to find a local firm that understood the context of our city.”
Burley, who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University (LSU), spearheaded the complex reforestation planning effort over the past two years.
With Traci Birch, a LSU professor and planner, SOUL organized four round table discussions with local stakeholders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and seven community meetings.
“Spackman Mossop Michaels was a stakeholder in those early conversations. We knew they were already invested in the plan and understood the steps taken,” Burley said.
The firm was then hired to analyze the complex GIS data gathered by SOUL, facilitate more meetings across the city, and develop the plan.
“Landscape architects know the challenges and how to intersect with utilities. We helped facilitate concrete conversations with stakeholders. We examined city regulations and came up with recommendations so that these systems can work a little better. The goal is to make planting trees a smoother, easier process,” Bullock said.
The firm’s community engagement experience also helped SOUL frame the conversations.
“Not everyone in the community is 100 percent behind planting more trees. Landscape architects know that trees = good, but we can also meet communities where they are. We heard concerns like: ‘what if a tree falls on my house or leaves clog up my gutters? What if their roots break up my driveway?'”, Michaels said.
Research shows that trees increase property values. But SMM didn’t hear concerns that more trees could lead to gentrification or displacement. “The questions were more about: ‘who will maintain the trees in rights of way? Where will the maintenance funds come from?,'” said Bullock.
In the historic Garden District, tree roots can transform sidewalks into jagged small hills, making them inaccessible. And in other older parts of the city, sidewalks are very narrow, leaving little room for trees. How will the city fit in more?
“We didn’t get into these kinds of issues, which were beyond the scope. We want to make sure we don’t repeat the current issues, including with overhead and underground utilities. The goal is to create a unified tree policy with stakeholders, including the utilities providing power, water, sewage. The idea is to create a new policy together,” Michaels explained.
The plan outlines detailed steps SOUL, other organizations, and the city can take to build capacity and ramp up tree planting to achieve the 2040 goal. But before scaling up, the plan calls for a full-year of community engagement. “This will help educate communities about the benefits of trees and lay the groundwork for the planting programs to come,” Michaels said.
In five diverse, underserved neighborhoods, pilot tree planting efforts will be rolled out over coming years. In some of these neighborhoods, planting more trees will be fairly straightforward given there are open green spaces available. In other more difficult neighborhoods, which already have lower tree canopies, additional funds and support will be needed to break up and remove concrete rights of way.
According to Burley, the biggest barrier to implementing the plan is lack of funding. “In New Orleans, the Department of Parks and Parkways is extremely underfunded. The plan is an advocacy tool — it shows what can be done with additional funds and how to make it happen.”
And this is why the team focused on making the plan so easy-to-understand. “Most reforestation plans I saw were missing the human component. Our plan is meant to be highly accessible, so it can be picked-up by any city government official or neighborhood association.”
This plan also offers an approach other landscape architects can apply. “Reforestation plans are in landscape architects’ wheelhouse. These plans are at the intersection of ecology, culture, and public health. It’s not just about overall tree canopy numbers. But how to plant the most trees in places where they are needed, and in the shortest amount of time, with limited resources,” Michaels said.
The American Society of Landscape Architects Calls on National Governments to Commit to 30 x 2030 and the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030
ASLA urges national governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montréal, Canada, to commit to far more ambitious global conservation and biodiversity goals, including protecting at least 30 percent of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems by 2030 (30 x 2030).
In advance of the CBD COP15, ASLA has also joined 340 organizations worldwide in signing the Global Goal for Nature: Nature Positive by 2030. The Call to Action makes an appeal for “improving the state of nature by 2030; ensuring rights-based approaches to nature-based solutions and to conserving effectively and equitably 30 percent of land, freshwater, and seas by 2030; and directly tackling the drivers of nature loss,” among other goals.
“In our recently released Climate Action Plan, ASLA identified the connections between climate change and biodiversity loss. We made a clear commitment to advance 30 x 2030. We also called on all landscape architecture projects to restore ecosystems and protect biodiversity on a global scale by 2040 – and we call on national governments to be equally as bold,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
“In Montréal, now is the time for a global agreement to address the biodiversity crisis and increase protections for nature. Biodiversity underpins all natural systems on Earth. Protecting our remaining biodiversity and bolstering and restoring ecosystems are critical to our long-term survival,” said ASLA President Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA.
According to the United Nations, one-million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and seventy-five percent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and two-thirds of the oceans have been significantly altered by humanity.
ASLA and its members understand there is both a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis, and they are interconnected:
A changing climate is resulting in sea level rise, extreme heat, increased flooding, and drought, which impacts both communities and non-human species.
Biodiversity loss is largely driven by unsustainable agricultural practices, sprawl, and habitat fragmentation, but climate change is accelerating the alteration of habitats and species migration, which increases extinction risks.
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation undermine the natural systems humanity relies on to provide a range of critical ecosystem functions, including nature-based approaches to sequestering carbon and adapting to climate impacts.
“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to plan denser communities and protect natural areas, combating the sprawl that threatens remaining ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots. We can also increase biodiversity through the incorporation of native tree and plant species, planning and designing habitat connections and corridors, and restoring degraded ecosystems – all of which have important climate benefits as well,” said O’Mahoney.
Given the failure of the global community to meet the 2020 Aichi biodiversity targets, ASLA calls on national governments to significantly increase investment and support for conservation, habitat defragmentation and connection, and ecosystem restoration over the next decade.
In global discussions, ASLA also urges national governments to increasingly connect the climate and biodiversity crises, to not address them in a siloed manner. An integrated approach can increase the focus on nature-based solutions, including ecosystem-based mitigation and adaptation approaches, that address the climate and biodiversity crises together.
In future COPs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nature-based solutions must be elevated and seen as integral to reducing emissions and increasing resilience.
Through advocacy, planning, and design efforts with urban, suburban, and rural communities, landscape architects can work with nature to help address both biodiversity and climate impacts. Landscape architects also support the rights and leadership of indigenous communities in conservation efforts worldwide.
ASLA notes that the Convention, which entered into force in 1993, has been ratified by 196 countries. The United States remains the only UN member country that has signed but not yet ratified the multilateral treaty. This has put the U.S. government and U.S. based organizations advocating for biodiversity at a disadvantage in global negotiations.
The Climate Action Plan was developed by a high-profile Task Force of five landscape architects chaired by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design, and a 17-member Advisory Group. It outlines a bold vision for 2040 and a set of 71 actions to be taken by 2025.
By 2040, all landscape architecture projects will simultaneously:
Achieve zero embodied and operational emissions and increase carbon sequestration
Provide significant economic benefits in the form of measurable ecosystem services, health co-benefits, sequestration, and green jobs
Address climate injustices, empower communities, and increase equitable distribution of climate investments
Restore ecosystems and increase and protect biodiversity
“Landscape architects are already helping communities achieve this vision. As we increasingly experience the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need to act faster. We are the only design professionals who bring all the pieces together to plan and design what communities need to prepare themselves for a changing world,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA.
“ASLA has developed its first Climate Action Plan in the spirit of great optimism. We envision communities becoming healthier and economically stronger because they have committed to drawing down carbon, restoring ecosystems and increasing biodiversity, and reducing reliance on vehicles – all while ensuring everyone in their community has equitable access to these benefits,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is based in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found humanity can only put a maximum of 340 more gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere if we want a good chance of only increasing temperatures by 1.5° C (2.7° Fahrenheit), instead of 2° C (3.6° Fahrenheit). To advance the goal of keeping warming to 1.5° C, ASLA signed on to the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Climate Action Commitment in 2021. The commitment was presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and is supported by 70,000 landscape architects in 77 countries.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is rooted in the three goals (practice, equity, and advocacy) and six initiatives of IFLA Climate Action Commitment.
The ASLA plan will direct all ASLA programs and investments through 2025. Goals will be advanced through 21 objectives and 71 actions. Goals and actions will be revisited and updated in 2025 and every five years until 2040 and beyond.
To accomplish the plan, ASLA, as a mission-driven association, has also committed to achieving zero emissions in its operations by 2040. ASLA is calculating baseline Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions for its 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco and headquarters operations in Washington, D.C. and has committed to reducing its overall emissions by 20% by 2024. ASLA will use its own journey to zero as a learning opportunity for its members, EXPO exhibitors, and partner organizations.
A companion to the plan – the Climate Action Field Guide for ASLA Members – provides best practice guidance, toolkits, and resources for ASLA members and their firms and organizations, along with corporate partners, to achieve the 2040 vision.
The Field Guide features six toolkits covering 18 strategies, with guidance on how to:
Design Climate Positive Landscapes
Design Pedestrian, Cyclist, and Public Transit-Centric Communities
Reduce Energy Use and Support Renewables
Help Communities Adapt to Climate Impacts
Explore Pathways to Financial Sustainability with Communities
Protect and Increase Biodiversity
Learn from Indigenous Communities Through Collaboration
Build Climate Coalitions
“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to understand and manage complex, multi-disciplinary challenges and design sustainable, world-changing solutions. We are committed to following the science, and through this Climate Action Plan we will rapidly scale up Climate- and Biodiversity-positive solutions in the U.S. and, through our partnership with IFLA, the world,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, Chair of the Climate Action Plan Task Force.
Conrad will represent ASLA and highlight the vision and goals of the ASLA Climate Action Plan at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Michigan Gets $105M Grant from Feds To Turn I-375 in Detroit Into Boulevard – 09/15/2022, The Detroit News
“City leaders have envisioned the elimination of I-375 as a way to reconnect once-predominantly Black neighborhoods divided by the highway when it was built in the 1950s and ’60s, bulldozing the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley residential and commercial districts in the name of urban renewal.”
The Best of Urban Design 2022 – 09/15/2022, Fast Company
“See all the honorees of Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Awards in the Urban Design category.”
The Town Squares We Used to Have — and Could Have Again – 09/12/2022, Governing “This historic importance of town squares, in towns of all shapes and sizes, is impossible to dispute. The question is how badly we need them now — not just as picturesque garden spots but as gathering places for a functioning community.”
First Look at Frisco’s Newest Park – 09/07/2022, Local Profile
“OJB Landscape Architecture, the firm behind Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, is handling the park’s design that’s centered around providing inclusive and accessible year-round arts and culture programming to reflect North Texas’ diverse character.”
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.'”
Led by climate leaders in the field of landscape architecture, ASLA is developing a profession-wide Climate Action Plan
ASLA has announced it is developing its first Climate Action Plan for the U.S. landscape architecture community. The ambitious plan seeks to transform the practice of landscape architecture by 2040 through actions taken by ASLA and its members focused on climate mitigation and adaptation, ecological restoration, biodiversity, equity, and economic development. The plan will be released at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, November 11-14, 2022, in San Francisco, CA.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is led by a five-member Task Force and 16-member Advisory Group of climate leaders from the landscape architecture profession.
The diverse, intergenerational Task Force includes climate leaders at different stages of their professional life.
“Landscape architects are leaders in designing solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises that also provide multiple environmental, economic, social, and health co-benefits. ASLA purposefully included both established and emerging climate leaders in this critical Task Force, which will shape the profession far into the future,” said Eugenia Martin, FASLA, ASLA President.
Task Force members include:
Chair: Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, Principal, CMG Landscape Architecture, and Founder, Climate Positive Design, San Francisco, California
Conrad built Climate Positive Design into a global movement with the goal of ensuring all designed landscapes store more carbon than they emit while providing environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits.
Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, D. Eng., PLA, Director, Program in Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and Principal Landscape Architect, DesignJones, LLC, Arlington, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana
José M. Almiñana, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP, Principal, Andropogon Associates, Ltd., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sarah Fitzgerald, ASLA, Designer, SWA Group, Dallas, Texas
Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, PLA, Former ASLA President, Seattle, Washington
The goals, objectives, and action items of the plan are also shaped by a Climate Action Plan Advisory Group of 16 diverse climate leaders, who are based in 12 U.S. states and two countries and in private and public practice and academia. The Group consists of nine members who identify as women, seven as men, two as Black, four as Asian and Asian American, one as Latina, and one as Native American.
“ASLA believes equity needs to be at the center of climate action, because we know climate change will disproportionately impact underserved and historically marginalized communities. It is important that the group guiding the Climate Action Plan and the future of the profession mirrors the diversity of the landscape architecture community and its breadth of educational and practice areas,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Advisory Group members include:
Monique Bassey, ASLA, Marie Bickham Chair, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Scott Bishop, ASLA, RLA, Principal, BLD | Bishop Land Design, Quincy, Massachusetts
Keith Bowers, FASLA, RLA, PWS, Founding Principal, Biohabitats, Charleston, South Carolina
Pippa Brashear, ASLA, RLA, Resilience Principal, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Meg Calkins, FASLA, FCELA, Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, PhD, PLA, LEED AP, Program Head and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, and Environmental Design, The Design School, Arizona State University, and President-Elect, Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), Tempe, Arizona
Jose de Jesus Leal, ASLA, PLA, IA, Native Nation Building Studio Director, MIG, Inc., Sacramento, California
Kate Orff, FASLA, Professor, Columbia University GSAPP & Columbia Climate School, and Founder, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Transportation Planning Manager, City of Beaverton, Portland, Oregon
Adrian Smith, FASLA, Staten Island Team Leader, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, New York, New York
Matt Williams, ASLA, Planner, City of Detroit Planning & Development Department (PDD), Detroit, Michigan
Dou Zhang, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Shanghai Office, Sasaki, Shanghai, China
In 2021, ASLA joined with Architecture 2030 to call for the landscape architecture, planning, architecture, development, and construction professions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations by 50-65 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2040.