Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 16-31)

COP26 / UK Government

COP26: ‘Moment of Truth’ as World Meets for Climate Summit – 10/31/21, BBC News
“Delegates from around 200 countries are there to announce how they will cut emissions by 2030 and help the planet. With the world warming because of fossil fuel emissions caused by humans, scientists warn that urgent action is needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

Black Landscapes Matter Asks Why Black Landscapes Are Separate from Landscape Design — 10/29/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“If Black lives do matter, then where we live, and how we live there, must matter as well. This deceptively simple suggestion is the provocation that Black Landscapes Matter poses to the fields of landscape architecture and design.”

U.S. Traffic Deaths Continued to Spike in 2021 — 10/29/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The number of people killed on U.S. roads jumped 18.4% — the largest six-month increase in traffic fatalities on record — as car travel picked up.”

‘Making Meaningful Places’: Claude Cormier Landscape Architecture Award Launched at University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty — 10/29/21, University of Toronto News
“The Claude Cormier Award in Landscape Architecture will annually cover the domestic tuition fees of an MLA student, in their third and final year, who shows promise to pursue creative and pioneering forms or approaches to practice.”

As E-Bikes Speed Up, a Policy Dilemma Looms — 10/29/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The newest electric bikes can go much faster than pedal-only riders, which could spur a backlash from pedestrians and a crackdown from regulators.”

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Leaf Blowers — 10/25/21, The New York Times
“Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry.”

In Ida’s Wake, America’s Rural Communities Need Better Protection—Cities Can’t Hog Climate Adaptation — 10/25/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Hurricane Ida served as a harsh reminder that the nation’s rural and smaller coastal communities often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, suffering extensive flooding and other damage, yet lack the resources to rebuild or to implement measures that could prevent future disasters.”

Hundreds Turn out to Celebrate New Downtown Park in Palm Springs — 10/21/21, Desert Sun
“‘Nellie Coffman’s mantra is she believed in space, stillness, solitude and simplicity and I hope this project really conveys those ideas,’ park designer Mark Rios said. ‘Tonight we are here to celebrate and I think we really want to celebrate that it worked.'”

The Incredible Opportunity of Community Schoolyards

NY Public School 366 (before image) / Trust for Public Land
NY Public School 366 (after image) / Trust for Public Land

A new report from The Trust for Public Land (TPL) makes a compelling case for transforming underperforming, paved public schoolyards into green oases for the entire community. While the benefits for schools and their educational communities are clear, TPL sees an opportunity to open up these facilities to surrounding neighborhoods after school hours, on weekends, and when school is out. If all 90,000 public schools in the country had a “community schoolyard,” more communities could tackle the persistent park equity issue — in which too few communities, particularly undeserved ones, enjoy access to nearby high-quality public green spaces. TPL argues that opening up all schoolyards, essentially turning them into part-time all-access community hubs, would “put a park within a 10-minute walk of nearly 20 million people — solving the problem of outdoor access for one-fifth of the nation’s 100 million people who don’t currently have a park close to home.”

TPL found that “only a tiny fraction” of current public schoolyards met their criteria for a community schoolyard. While some communities have been greening their schoolyards — adding trees, gardens, and stormwater management systems — and others have opened their schoolyards to the public after hours, very few have done both. TPL calls for massively scaling up efforts to revamp schoolyards and make them more accessible through more federal funding and support through their organization and others.

Community schoolyards are the result of planning and design efforts, most often led by landscape architects and designers, to transform “overheated, vacant, and uninspired” places into green healthy ones. These spaces include trees, which provide ample shade and cool the air; gardens that increase biodiversity and provide environmental educational opportunities; stormwater management systems that help reduce flooding; and tracks, fields, and play equipment that offer space for exercise and building social skills and community engagement.

NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land
NY public school 152 before image / Trust for Public Land

These shade-producing spaces, designed to cool and clean the air, offer benefits to any surrounding community, but help some even more. Research from TPL found that nationwide, “36 percent of the nation’s 50.8 million public school students attended school in a heat island, which is defined as 1.25 degrees warmer or more, on average, than the surrounding town or city. Among that group, 4.1 million students to a school in a severe heat island of 7 degrees ore more, while 1.1 million attend school in an extreme heat island of 10 degrees or more. In some communities, the heat anomaly exceeded 20 degrees.”

Income is correlated with exposure to heat risks. Average household incomes in the communities with more dangerous heat islands were estimated to be $31,000 less than the income in the coolest parts of communities. Some of the discrepancies can be explained by the enduring and dangerous legacy of racist urban planning. A study published in 2020 in the journal Climate found that communities that experienced redlining and disinvestment are 2.6°C (4.6°F) hotter than neighboring communities that didn’t. This is because that legacy resulted in a lack of street trees and public green spaces. Indeed, in the 100 largest cities, neighborhoods where people predominantly identify as people of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage that predominately white areas.

One case study demonstrates the great gains that can be made by investing in public schools in historically marginalized and underserved communities. In Newark, New Jersey, a new half-acre green schoolyard at the K-8 Sussex Avenue School, co-designed by third and fourth graders and Heidi Cohen, ASLA, a landscape architect with TPL, resulted in a new turf field and running track, trees and flowering shrubs, a drinking fountain (for the first time), and an outdoor classroom space.

K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land
K-8 Sussex Avenue School / Trust for Public Land

The investment in students’ health and well-being resulted in noteworthy benefits: “Average daily attendance climate from 90 percent to 96 percent almost immediately after the renovation. Disciplinary actions declined, while test scores went up among the school’s 500 students, 95 percent of whom qualify for a free or reduced lunch.”

Given climate change is increasing the dangers of already hot, and unfairly hot, urban heat islands, future investment in high-quality public schoolyards is now a climate justice issue. TPL cites a study in NYC that found a correlation between rising temperatures and test scores. Another study by the Harvard Kennedy School, the College Board, and others offered “evidence that cumulative heat hurts cognitive development.” While a community schoolyard can’t solve all problems, they can improve health and educational outcomes for students. The health benefits of access of green space are increasingly well-understood, and a growing body of research shows that views of green spaces can improve cognition, mood, and learning. “By virtue of their shade, Community Schoolyard projects could help students improve their test scores,” TPL argues. Shaded areas can be up to 50 degrees cooler than a similar area in full sun.

The report also covers the many climate resilience benefits of community schoolyards. Like other sustainable landscapes, they can effectively manage stormwater using green infrastructure. TPL’s community schoolyards in NYC are estimated to capture 19 million gallons of stormwater a year; and in Philadelphia, these schoolyards capture 17 million gallons annually. “Installing green infrastructure at public schools reduces flood risk throughout the neighborhood.” Planting and maintaining school rain gardens also provides environmental education opportunities for students of all ages.

LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC before photo / Trust for Public Land
LaCima charter school, Brooklyn, NYC after photo / Trust for Public Land

ASLA Announces 2021 Student Awards

ASLA 2021 Student General Design Honor Award. The Interaction Between Masks And Desertification: A Paradigm of Family Sand Control by Mongolian Herdsmen. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Xi Zhao; Xue Li; Xinyu Yang; Qiong Wang, Student International ASLA, Beijing Forestry University

ASLA announces the 2021 Student Award winners. The 35 winning projects exemplify the highest level of achievement by future landscape architect professionals. The students themselves will be honored at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, Nov. 20 in Nashville, TN.

Winners each year are chosen by a jury panel representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, as well as academia. The 35 winners were chosen from 440 submissions of projects from around the world. Awards categories include: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Collaboration, and Community Service.

“This program not only honors the tremendous creativity and passion of these future landscape architect leaders, it also highlights the extraordinary contributions they will make to communities upon graduation,” said Torey Carter- Conneen, CEO of ASLA.

Student Award recipients will be honored in-person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, TN on Saturday, November 20th, at 6pm ET.

Explore the full list of this year’s Student Award winners

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (September 1-15)

Los Angeles, Wildfires, and Adaptive Design / Greg Kochanowski, GGA

Los Angeles, Wildfires and Adaptive Design: Greg Kochanowski on Creating New Futures — 09/15/21, ArchDaily
“At UCLA, I additionally became interested in landscape, particularly through an interest in a more holistic way of thinking about the built environment. This has subsequently become a passion of mine to, the point of becoming a licensed landscape architect, and has significantly shaped my personal ideology and methodology of working. I see the world holistically as a complex series of relationships between cultural and organic systems – from cities to climate, buildings to landscapes, racial inequality to ecosystems.”

SCAPE’s Living Breakwaters Project Begins In-water Construction Off of Staten Island — 09/14/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Earlier this week, the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) announced that Living Breakwaters, the $107 million coastal resiliency-slash-marine biodiversity project was now taking shape off the South Shore area of Staten Island; an area pummeled by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.”

Wildfire Destroyed His Kids’ School. So This Dad Designed a Fireproofed Replacement — 09/14/21, Fast Co. Design
“Landscape architect Pamela Burton designed the grounds of the school, creating large buffers between the campus and the surrounding natural hillsides, and using large boulders and wide patios to break up the space.”

Report: To Close the Park Access Gap, Open up Schoolyards — 09/13/21, Grist
“The nonprofit environmental advocacy group The Trust for Public Land, or TPL, estimates that 100 million people in America, including 28 million kids, don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of their home. Race plays a major role in the divide: The group estimates that, in the 100 largest U.S. cities, communities of color have access to an average of 44 percent less park space than predominantly white neighborhoods.”

Lessons from the Rise and Fall of the Pedestrian Mall — 09/09/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Car-free shopping streets swept many U.S. cities in the 1960s and ’70s, but few examples survived. Those that did could be models for today’s ‘open streets.'”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification — 09/05/21, Vox
“Our focus on gentrification might lead people to believe that it is the dominant form of inequality in American cities (our outsized focus on the phenomenon may be due in part to the fact that gentrification scholars, journalists, and consumers of digital media tend to live in gentrifying neighborhoods themselves). But the core rot in American cities is not the gentrifying neighborhoods: It is exclusion, segregation, and concentrated poverty.”

At CUT|FILL, Debate over How to Expand Access to the Landscape Architecture Profession

“A pipeline is a smooth, enclosed surface that moves something from A to B as quickly as possible,” explained Marc Miller, ASLA, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), at the 2021 CUT|Fill Unconference. When using the term pipeline in regards to the act of moving young people into the landscape architecture profession, there are a “lot of assumptions.” A pipeline conveys the idea of a single pathway into the profession and can be associated with the historic exclusionary nature of licensure. Instead of a pipeline, Miller called for a mat with many entry points that enables people of color to more easily access landscape architecture and other design professions.

Matt Williams, ASLA, a landscape designer and planner with the city of Detroit who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University (LSU), argued that for “black people, there is no straight line into the profession.”

And in the comments during the Zoom discussion, there were lots of agreement on this point. Cindy Gilliland, ASLA, a landscape architect, noted that “there is no straight line for women either.” Instead of a pipeline, perhaps there are “chutes and ladders,” commented Ujijji Davis, ASLA, a landscape architect in Detroit. For Jeana Pearl Fletcher, Student ASLA, the concept of a pipeline “makes me question the hierarchy that exists in institutions and pedagogy in general. How do we move forward without this constructed hierarchy, which often leads to the trajectory of a pipeline?”

The kick-off session of CUT|FILL was meant to initiate “difficult conversations” around the theme: “Are we building a bridge to the future?” Panelists called for major change in how landscape architecture is taught. A core argument: the non-inclusive framing of landscape architecture and its history, particularly in K-12 educational materials and design school curricula, turns off a lot of people of color from even considering the profession.

For Miller, the challenge working with CELA, a global organization that support landscape architecture academics and students across the planet, is the different conceptions of diversity. One way around this issue is to take a universal approach to unearthing the landscape traditions that have been long buried by colonialism in so many countries.

As an example, he pointed to American landscape writings from the late 1700s. He questioned why these should be among the few texts taught from the era, given they don’t include the history of 1619, when slaves first arrived on the shores of this country. When we revisit history from the understanding that many landscape traditions make up the landscape of the U.S., “we have a radically different history” that can resonate with more diverse students.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) has been trying to support multiple pathways into the profession of landscape architecture, explained Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, the organization’s CEO. LAF has supported research, which is “the basis of innovation,” through more than 170 Landscape Performance Series case studies; scholarships for those entering the profession; and leadership development programs, including their Leadership and Innovation Fellows programs. Their focus is on making the landscape architecture profession even more inclusive and growing diverse leaders. “We are trying to spread out a range of efforts out and look systematically at the whole journey of becoming a landscape architect.”

Williams stated that his work in Detroit isn’t just about planning but also increasing planning and design literacy among young people in the city. A recent framework plan covering 5 square miles of the Warrendale Cody Rouge community “emphasized youth engagement and was led with a youth-centric lens.”

Chill zone at Stein Park, Detroit / City of Detroit Department of Planning and Development

In his education and career, Williams said, he has made “hundreds of maps,” but he discovered young people had never seen their neighborhood mapped or even knew how zip codes or routes to schools were formed. “I saw young people go from not understanding to wanting to become planners, designers, and policymakers.” Planners and designers in his department are now working with K-12 students to teach mapping and the legacy of redlining and the impact of gentrification in the city.

“I have taken advantage of every crack in the pipeline over my career,” said Mae Lin Plummer, co-chair of the inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility task force at the American Public Gardens Association. And instead of directing people to one career pathway, “we need to use vast networks to create success — think of the fungal networks underneath the roots of trees. It’s about building relationships.”

For her, a key question is: “why doesn’t everyone want to do garden design?” She found her experience at a public botanical garden to be welcoming and uplifting but has since discovered many changes need to be made to make the field of public horticultural design more accessible and inclusive. “Public gardens are at a crossroads. In the past, they perpetuated elitism and had a passive influence on a small group of society.” There’s a shift underway in which public garden designers are taking an active role, everywhere from public gardens to hell strips to rooftops.

She urged anyone rethinking their approaches to inclusion and accessibility to “keep asking why you are making the change; peel back the layers; interrogate reality; mine for clarity, like you would weeding a garden, which can be dirty and uncomfortable.”

Jennifer Reut, acting editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine, said that leadership and how “gatekeeping or boundary defining” occurs in the profession of landscape architecture are now evolving. Today, the profession is being challenged by “big ideas” that will shape what the field becomes in the future. She argued that different media are required for different audiences — “video, TikTok, and Twitter may be needed to reach some, while others still prefer print.” And that different media also alters the messages and stories. “It’s a major challenge to reach everyone.”

She also questioned whether images of finished plans and projects are the best ways to engage young people about the profession. “We show them projects rooted in a set of formal ideas and values about how things should look. In the magazine, we have been trying to instead show photos of community planning meetings where landscape architects and community members are building trust. I sometimes receive feedback: ‘Well, that isn’t landscape architecture.’ For me, it is, and I think that’s where we need to start in showing the design process.”

As the exchange flowed, Miller returned to the idea of a single pipeline and how it can be re-conceived for a more diverse world. American landscape history needs to more deeply explore “property, labor, and people.” Also, the “binary focus” on just white colonialists and enslaved Africans leaves out the story of indigenous people and their role in American landscapes.

In Australia, a new bi-cultural landscape pedagogy is being taught that integrates Aboriginal and white colonial histories. This approach could be a way to “take apart the entire foundation of Western frameworks” of landscape architecture education. Williams questioned whether existing Western frameworks are really Western to begin with. “We need to expand the foundations of pedagogy to attract more people.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (July 1-15)

Los Angeles River project design / MLA-Studio

Studio-MLA Will Lead a Major Riverfront Development in Riverside, California — 07/14/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“‘To maximize the benefits, we’re thinking holistically across disciplines, working in concert with the community and with the river’s ecology, and planning for real equity with a very long-term view,’ says Mia Lehrer, the president of the studio.”

Arboretum Showcasing Educational Games Designed by Grad Students — 07/14/21, The Auburn Villager
“Designed by landscape architecture graduate students, the games allow visitors to interact with the arboretum in new and innovative ways while also teaching them things about nature they might not have known.”

The Power of Getting Paid Not to Park at Work — 07/14/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Subsidizing employer-paid parking clogs streets boosts emissions and isn’t fair to commuters who can’t use this perk. But there’s an easy way to fix it.”

Covid Didn’t Kill Cities. Why Was That Prophecy So Alluring? — 07/12/21, The New York Times
“Inevitably, the city survives. And yet so does the belief it will fall next time. The Upshot asked more than a dozen people who think a lot about cities — historians, economists, sociologists and urban policy experts — about the strange staying power of this narrative.”

Who’s the Green City for, Really? — 07/12/21, Sierra Club Magazine
“This idea that all green spaces are an unmitigated social good is nothing new…It’s a concept that’s existed since the late 19th century. What is unique now, though, is public awareness of ecological concerns like climate change. Green cities are now the epitome of an ideal, modern urban life, and urban planners seek to integrate highly visible, nature-based projects into cities.”

While We’re Considering Removing Highways, Let’s Not Overlook Pavement — 07/07/21, Next City
“Removing urban pavement would reduce stormwater run-off and treatment, rebuild natural climate buffers in cities, release soil from confinement, make space to plant trees, sequester carbon, and allow people to breathe fresh air, not asphalt.”

OJB Landscape Architecture’s Downtown Cary Park in North Carolina Will Be the First of Its Kind in the Region — 07/02/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The promise of catalytic change is very much present in the design of the ambitious Downtown Cary Park, which is being positioned as a central element in the larger revitalization of the town’s downtown core.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (May 1-15)

Nanzen-in garden, Japan / Domus

Japanese Gardens Told by Landscape Architect Tomoki Kato — 05/13/21, Domus
“The relationship between cities and Japanese gardens goes back to the very origins of the Japanese garden itself. During the eighth century, gardens using Chinese landscaping techniques to innovate original Japanese features occupied the heart of the ancient capital of Nara.”

Gilbreth Column: Landscape Architect Briggs Created MasterpiecesPost and Courier, 05/13/21
“Born in New York, [Loutrel Briggs] graduated from Cornell in 1917 and ended up establishing an office in Charleston in 1929, where he worked for 40 years and designed some 100 gardens — many of which are (or were — more on that later) masterpieces.”

Planning Tribunal Dashes City’s Dreams of a Downtown Rail Deck Park in a ‘Hugely Disappointing’ Decision — 05/12/21, The Toronto Star
“The city could also still try to purchase the air rights over the corridor to build a public park, but since the site is now designated as mixed-use by the planning tribunal, it would be at great expense.”

Pratt Is Launching a New Master’s in Landscape Architecture Program — 05/11/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“‘The program will be profoundly connected to its Brooklyn context, and encourage students to develop advanced knowledge of what constitutes landscape design across a range of complex ecologies and community contexts,’ said School of Architecture dean Harriet Harris in a statement.”

Detroit Showed What ‘Build Back Better’ Can Look Like — 05/10/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The city’s 2013 bankruptcy ushered in a new era of problem-solving that could be a model for a national infrastructure push, says one philanthropic leader.”

A Narrow Path for Biden’s Ambitious Land Conservation Plan — 05/06/21, The Washington Post
“Months after President Biden set a goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, the administration Thursday laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision.”

The Atlanta BeltLine Wants to Prevent Displacement of Longtime Residents. Is it Too Late? — 05/04/21, Next City
“Concerns about affordable housing, gentrification and displacement have accompanied the development of the Atlanta BeltLine since its earliest days. The vision for the project — a 22-mile multi-use trail built on an old railway line looping the entire city of Atlanta — was so clear a catalyst for rising real estate value that the original development plan, completed in 2005, included a goal of building 5,600 workforce housing units to mitigate the impacts of gentrification.”

Conversations with Olmsted: His Visions for Reform

Map from the 1862 edition of Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom by Frederick Law Olmsted. / Courtesy of the PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at Cornell University

Social justice, equity, and reform are not new topics for landscape architecture — rather, they are at its origin. Frederick Law Olmsted’s prominent role in shaping public opinion on social reform in the period leading up to and during the Civil War still impacts practice today.

As part of Olmsted 200, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) will host a free online conversation on May 18 that re-centers the way we tell the story of Olmsted’s work and the origins of landscape architecture.

A group of scholars from Harvard University — Sara Zewde, founding principal, Studio Zewde, and assistant professor, Graduate School of Design; John Stauffer, professor of English and African and African American Studies; and Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture and director of the office for urbanization, Graduate School of Design — will delve into a few key areas.

The speakers will outline the conditions of 19th century cities, including intense rural-to-urban migration, industrialization, and immigration, and how these conditions impacted the discipline of landscape architecture. They will explore how — through his writing — Olmsted confronted the institution of slavery and the cotton economy.

Bringing Olmsted into the present, Zewde, Stauffer, and Waldheim will explore how Olmsted’s values and advocacy for social reform translate to today’s urban and cultural challenges. And they will also discuss how landscape architecture, from its inception, aimed to address societal and environmental conditions through design — and how racial equity and environmental justice issues continue to shape what landscape architects design today.

Conversations with Olmsted: His Visions for Reform is free and will be hosted virtually on May 18 at 3pm EST.

Please register today.

For landscape architects: this webinar will provide 1.0 PDH (LA CES/HSW).

Conversations with Olmsted is the first in a series of Olmsted 200 programs. Olmsted 200 is a national celebration spearheaded by a coalition of national organizations marking Frederick Law Olmsted’s bicentennial birthday on April 26, 2022.

Help us preserve and share Olmsted’s legacy by visiting Olmsted200.org, subscribing to the Olmsted Insider newsletter, and following Olmsted 200 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Vision for Truly Inclusive Public Spaces Rooted in Olmsted’s Core Values

Reimagining Frederick Law Olmsted’s 527-acre Franklin Park in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods as an inclusive and accessible “country park” in the city. ASLA 2020 Student General Design Honor Award. Breaking Barriers. Xiao (Phoebe) Cheng, Student ASLA. Faculty Advisors: Gina Ford, FASLA; Maggie Hansen, University of Texas at Austin

By Roxanne Blackwell, Jared Green, and Lisa J. Jennings

Olmsted was committed to democratic access to public space, which is one of the foundations of inclusion. Communities can re-imagine this core value to plan and design more inclusive places.

Frederick Law Olmsted believed universal access to nature and beauty in designed landscapes would help elevate community health and in turn social discourse. He was guided by the belief that public spaces should be accessible and inclusive. He believed public parks would serve as a democratizing force, bringing many communities together to forge a new American society.

In the lead-up to the Civil War, Olmsted was a political reporter who explored the slave states of the South and wrote influential pieces on what he experienced for The New York Daily Times and in a series of books. During his southern journey, Olmsted witnessed the impact of African and African-American slaves on the American landscape.

According to Austin Allen, ASLA, PhD, associate professor of landscape architecture emeritus at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, “Olmsted became more aware of the way African and African American slaves were shaping the American landscape.” Slaves had an “untold and impactful influence” on Olmsted’s early conception of American landscape architecture.

However, when Olmsted began his career as a landscape architect with the commission to plan and design Central Park in New York City, he also advocated for parks to have a homogenizing and “civilizing” influence on whom he described in his writings as “Negroes,” “immigrants,” and “the working class.” In his view, parks would elevate these groups by enabling them to participate in public spaces with white Americans, whom he considered to be the upper classes even after the Civil War. Classes would converge towards a particular vision of how society should exist, one set by white elites.

As contemporary American communities plan and design networks of public parks that serve as common ground for an increasingly diverse society, it is important to maintain Olmsted’s core values – democratic access to public spaces – but to also imagine what true inclusion in public spaces looks and feels like for all communities.

For public spaces to be truly inclusive and accessible, they must be comfortable for all visitors. This can only happen if diverse communities have the opportunity to guide the planning and design process; see their identities, ideas, and cultures reflected in designed spaces; and enjoy these spaces in comfort and safety.

Public spaces must also be designed for users of all abilities. Everyone navigates the built environment differently, with abilities changing across a person’s lifespan. The population of people with physical, auditory, or visual disabilities, autism or neurodevelopmental and/or intellectual disabilities, or neurocognitive disorders will face greater challenges navigating public spaces until they are fully included in the planning and design process.

Public spaces cannot be planned and designed as a homogenizing force that seeks to elevate some of us towards one version of an ideal society. Parks should not erase histories or voices to fit a single narrative. Instead, they must be more nuanced places where multiple stories can be told; where gender, racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity can be celebrated; where racial and class reconciliation can be facilitated; where everyone has a safe connection to a messier but more real shared history and culture.

Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, is Director of Federal Government Affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Jared Green is editor of THE DIRT at ASLA. Lisa J. Jennings is Manager, Career Discovery and Diversity at ASLA.

This article was re-posted from Olmsted 200, the celebration of the bicentennial of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth. To get involved, visit their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and follow Olmsted 200 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 16-30)

The Nation’s Capital Welcomes Its Newest Memorial, Dedicated to American World War I Troops — 04/30/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The proposal, designed by architect Joe Weishaar with sculptor Sabin Howard, grew into a collaboration with architects-of-record GWWO and the Philadelphia-based David Rubin Land Collective as landscape architect, resulting in the new memorial through years of iterative agency review and adjustment.”

Activists Want to Restore Tampa’s Kiley Garden, Once a Landscape Marvel — 04/29/21, Tampa Bay Times
“A downtown resident and photographer who uses Kiley Garden for shoots, Stehlik is on a mission to add shade to the 4 1/2-acre checkerboard of grass and concrete located next to the Rivergate Tower at 400 N. Ashley Dr.”

The Weitzman School of Design Will Ponder the Fate of a Fragile Planet at the Venice Architecture Biennale — 04/27/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Richard Weller, professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and co-executive director of Penn’s Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology, will present three new works as part of the As One Planet exhibition at the Central Pavilion at the Giardini.”

Modi’s Sprawling Delhi Makeover Fuels Anger in Virus-hit India — 04/26/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Current plans suggest that many open spaces around India Gate that are visited by thousands daily may no longer be accessible to the public. ‘We common mortals will have no reason to go there, as government offices replace the quiet spaces of art, history, performance, leisure,’ Narayani Gupta, a Delhi-based historian said.”

Can City-owned Vacant Lots Fill the Need for Park Equity in Houston? — 04/21/21, Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research
“The residents of University Village in Greater Third Ward made a very strong case for turning a vacant lot into a pocket park in their neighborhood — and the city listened.”

Midtown’s Highway-capping Park Boosters Release New Video, Continue Outreach — 04/21/21, Urbanize Atlanta
“The goal of the park’s green elements is to recapture the character of the land, as it was in the late 1800s, when Georgia Tech was a single building, Midtown just a series of stately homes along Peachtree Street, and the rolling landscape still bucolic, with Tanyard Creek slicing through.”

To Create a Better California, These Landscape Architects Design Inclusive Public Spaces for All — 04/20/21, University of Southern California News
“The Landscape Justice Initiative unites USC students and faculty with community organizations to tackle big social and environmental challenges in Los Angeles and beyond.”