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, FastCo. 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.”

Let’s Destroy the Myth of Asian Americans as the Model Minority

Stop Asian Hate protest in Chicago’s Chinatown / Ernie Wong

By Ernie Wong, FASLA

Asian hate crimes have grown an alarming 150 percent over the past year. While other forms of crime are declining, this phenomenon is leading to real fear and anger in Asian communities throughout the country.

Landscape architecture is a part of the broader society, so the field is also directly impacted. From overseas students in landscape architecture education programs to the Asian communities that design firms serve, landscape architects are entrenched in dealing with society’s woes, especially when they occur in the public realm.

The demographics of our own profession have also shifted over the years, with a steady increase of Asians in the workforce and a conscious effort by many firms to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of their company values. In our own diverse firm, Asians constitutes about one-third of our total employees, with the majority of our leadership fitting into this category.

The murders in Atlanta shook us to the core and was deeply personal to many of us. Even while many of our staff know that I advocate on behalf of all communities of color, gender, religion and beliefs, I felt to the need to reach out with some reassurance of safety and care. It also was a time to again reflect on our own personal experiences and thoughts about race and this country, while allowing our staff to reveal any bias they had encountered. Interestingly but expected, nobody came forward.

There has always been a level of resentment against Asians throughout our history in America. Whether overt or subversive, the sentiment has always put a label on Asians as weak and submissive, or the “model minority,” a term that infuriates us. The term “Asian American” loops all of these extremely diverse communities into a single pool, absent of our nationalities, languages, religions, traditions, and experiences. The complexities and nuances are ignored, and our histories are made insignificant.

Ping Tom Park in Chicago, Illinois by site design group (site) / Scott Shigley
Ping Tom Park in Chicago, Illinois by site design group (site) / Scott Shigley
Ping Tom Park in Chicago, Illinois by site design group (site) / Scott Shigley
Ping Tom Park in Chicago, Illinois by site design group (site) / Scott Shigley
Ping Tom Park in Chicago, Illinois by site design group (site) / Scott Shigley

The history of Asians in America is largely unknown to most Americans, let alone the hundreds of Asian students flocking to the U.S. for a prestigious education. According to ASLA’s data, in 2017, at accredited landscape architecture programs in the U.S., the enrollment of international students over a five-year period grew 52 percent, and a majority of these students were from Asia. Those are significant numbers and a boon for the universities that can profit from these students.

What’s missing is the orientation and cultural diversity training that can help overseas students integrate into American culture. Suddenly, these students are thrust into a world defined by race and ethnicity, religion and gender identity. Unless they have a high fluency in the English language, engagement — and the initiation of such — remains the onus of the student. Thus, we find the clustering and isolation of overseas students struggling to understand “diversity.” Unfortunately, the characterization of race and culture in most media outlets only adds to the stereotyping, leaving their imaginations jaded.

When you add the experiences of expatriates throughout Asia who receive preferential treatment, those images further re-inforce the social hierarchy of white colonialism and Asian subordination and inferiority. Given the hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women and the desexualization of Asian men — who are characterized as being passive, effeminate, and weak — the incident in Atlanta could’ve occurred anywhere.

We are all struggling with diversity, equity, and inclusion in this country. The discussion is starting, but the results are distant. As fellow landscape architects, I am calling on you to be more sensitive to Asian experiences.

I’m calling on you to help destroy Asian stereotypes and the MYTH of the “model minority,” which is simply a lie to pit other people of color against Asians. I’m calling on you to disperse the fear that we have of each other — fear that some group will take another group’s jobs, or one type of people will harm another type of person. I’m calling on you to stand in solidarity with the #StopAsianHate movement.

Stop Asian Hate protest in Chicago’s Chinatown / Ernie Wong

Most of all, I’m calling on you to see the world as bigger than ourselves and continue to engage with people who are different than you.

Ernie Wong, FASLA, is a founding principal of site design group, ltd. (site) based in Chicago, Illinois. He is an Asian American male born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and continues to resolve his own identity issues.

ASLA seeks to facilitate open, respectful dialogue in its public forums. Opinions expressed in the comments section are not necessarily those of ASLA. By participating in ASLA’s websites, blogs, and social media accounts, the user agrees to the Terms of Use.

Asian Hate Didn’t Start with the Pandemic; It Will Not End with It Either Unless Everyone Acts

AAPI & BIPOC Coalition 5K run at Bryant Park in New York City / Star Max, AP Images

By Yujia Wang, ASLA

For the past year or so, we have witnessed a historic period of widespread, record-level aggressive rhetoric and attacks on the Asian community — the Atlanta shootings being the most severe of all. The Asian community seems to have become a punching bag and scapegoat, at least for a part of American society.

For Asians in the United States going about their daily life, there are increased risks and a growing sense of anxiety about basic safety and well-being. For those whose lives perished during these violent events — ordinary people who worked to provide for their family, just like any of us — the future is no more, and their families are now shattered. This is both sad and infuriating.

To solve any problem, we need to face it with great honesty. This proves difficult for some, because it means self-criticism and sharing more moral responsibility. The xenophobia and hatred against Asians did not start recently: Its history, as many people will tell you, can be traced back to the 19th century — the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; the massacres of 1871 and 1885; Japanese internment; the list goes on.

The problems Asians living in the United States face have not been fully recognized in the past. In fact, the problems are often sidelined and ignored. And while there has been some recent positive momentum, I would say it is still far from enough. Recognizing the problem fully and sincerely and standing in solidarity are the very least that can be done. Silence is noted and taken personally.

I have outlined additional steps that need to be taken:

We must all acknowledge that xenophobia and hatred are categorically wrong. There is no excuse — not tension in international relations, not domestic party politics, and certainly not the character of the victims. The term Asian American is problematic too, because it neglects the expatriates, students, and visitors who deserve equal inclusion. In a healthy and law-abiding society, no one should need to worry about their life and dignity, regardless of their ethnicity. However, in one of the most advanced countries, I get calls from family and friends who are understandably worried about my safety. I think the absurdity is self-apparent.

When we oppose racial hatred, we must oppose not only acts of hatred, but also the seeds of hatred — the seemingly conditional and temporary acceptance of Asians, the rumors and scapegoating that are tolerated and allowed to spread openly online because not many voice their opposition, and so on. Concluding that it is some politicians’ fault and moving-on is simply not enough. This is a societal problem that needs to be responded to as a society. Everyone needs to play a role and share the moral responsibility of preventing hatred.

The landscape architecture profession is in a unique position. With regards to race and equity, it has done well in some respects, but the shortcomings are also apparent. Landscape architecture has one of the most diverse communities, including a vibrant Asian community, especially in many undergraduate and graduate institutions. However, the Asian landscape architecture community should not be taken for granted.

Unless students and emerging professionals have confidence they are safe and supported in the profession and in the society, we will eventually lose the continuous influx of talented people in our universities and practices in the United States, which has strongly propelled the discipline forward.

A social event at the vegetable garden at Sasaki Associates Watertown office. Asian Americans and expatriates make up an important part of landscape architecture workforce. / Yujia Wang

Change need to happen. It’s important to empower Asian voices, support their growth and celebrate their achievements and give them platforms to share personal stories, cultural perspectives, and professional insights. A fuller, richer storytelling of Asian experience is long overdue. A healthy level of representation will turn into long-term and profound support of the foundations of our discipline.

Landscape practices commonly operate across cultures, regions, and countries. Today, as I tell my students and prospective students about my passion for landscape architecture, I am reminded of the multi-cultural nature of our work, and the kind of diversity and open-minded attitude we embrace as a profession.

When teaching, we also expose students to abundant cross-cultural design and learning opportunities. From my observations, I can see how much the ideal of diversity and cultural richness resonates with our young generation of students. This comes from the nature of human kindness and curiosity, which we can protect and encourage. This is the same for landscape architecture professionals. In classrooms and our practices, we should actively embrace the symphony of different cultures and the cross-pollinations of them.

In practice, this means strengthening the inclusion of our Asian students and colleagues in domestic projects teams, and, more importantly, increasing and supporting their presence in managing clients, hosting community events, and other engagement opportunities. These steps have often been lacking based on likely implied racial preferences. The effect limits the voice and growth of Asian landscape architects.

We can also support a mixture of backgrounds on international project teams, as a way to strengthen cultural understanding and exchange. Using our knowledge and cultural sensitivity, we can contribute as general members of the society in demystifying Asia and debunking and stopping the spread of rumors and offensive or aggressive messages. We should all take these steps not because they are the easy, but because we know they are right, and we trust they will enhance the diversity and inclusion of our field, and make our society a better place. This is how real changes begin.

Many of us have a strong belief in the ideal of globalization, which thrives on inclusion everywhere. On a personal level, I find it incredibly fortunate to have grown up in China; lived, studied, and worked in four countries across three continents; and visited more than 40 countries. Almost all of my work is international in nature.

View of the East Wetland area at Dongguan Greenline Park, a major urban park in Dongguan, China designed by Yujia Wang and his office Yi Chang Landscape and Planning, getting ready to open to visitors May 1st, 2021. An important portion of landscape architecture market is international, with the Asian market being the most significant. / Yujia Wang, Yi Chang Landscape and Planning
A landscape bridge at Dongguan Waterfront Park. / Yujia Wang, Yi Chang Landscape and Planning

It is so great to witness a mostly peaceful and thriving world, and the appreciation of, exchange of, and respect for the knowledge, culture, history, language from people with vastly different backgrounds. When young people try to work out their future path, as I did years ago, I want to see that their choice is made based on the merit of content. I want to see that they will be treated with the same level of inclusion wherever they decide to join as a member of the society, and that the safety and well-being are the least of their concerns.

That is the future that we, regardless of race and background, owe to our next generation – a more equitable, inclusive, and beautiful world. But this will not become a reality unless we all work towards it. And I think we must.

Yujia Wang, ASLA, is a landscape architecture professor of practice at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and founding partner at Yi Chang Landscape and Planning. In 2020, he became the first landscape architect to be listed on Forbes China 30 Under 30. Yujia is a Harvard alumnus and previously practiced at Sasaki.

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Landscape Architects Can Become Changemakers, But First We Need to Change How They Are Taught

Design as Protest charrette organized by landscape architecture students at the University of Washington, Seattle in 2017. / Jeffrey Hou

By Jeffrey Hou, ASLA

To address climate change, environmental degradation, and social inequalities, we need coordinated political action and systemic change on a global scale. With a mission to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public, landscape architects can become important agents of that change.

Given our ability to work with social and ecological systems at multiple scales, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring about positive systemic change locally, regionally, and across temporal and territorial borders. But to become true changemakers, landscape architects also need to take a more proactive approach beyond the current business as usual. We need to work with a greater network of partners and allies. We need to approach design as a form of activism and a vehicle for change.

Study abroad programs provide opportunities for students to work with underserved communities. / Informal Urban Communities Initiative team (aka Traction)

For landscape architects to become changemakers, we must change how they are taught. In a new report titled Design As Activism, we propose a framework that design schools can adopt to create opportunities within their programs for both immediate and enduring change:

  • Politicize – Develop the ability and capacity in students to engage in the political process to create change; understand better the language and systems of power; accept the responsibility of professionals as engaged citizens and as members of a democracy.
  • Hybridize – Build knowledge and capacity beyond the traditional core of the profession; engage in collaboration on research, teaching, and service with other disciplines; learn from how other fields generate, disseminate, and apply knowledge, and how they engage the public and advance their agenda.
  • Glocalize – Think and act both locally and globally; build connections with stakeholders, including communities, public agencies, civic organizations, and the professional community locally and across borders; examine the intersections between local and global challenges.
  • Improvise – Make use of what already exists, including courses, curriculum, programs, and other resources; utilize strengths and assets already in place in a program or a community, including existing connections and relationships; be tactical and creative with opportunities and circumstances.
  • Problematize – Question assumptions and challenges facing an institution or a community; develop a deeper understanding of issues and take a critical stance; make issues of equity, justice, and resilience in a current program, curriculum, institution, or community the focus of education and actions.
  • Authenticize – Create opportunities for self-discoveries through experiential learning; develop and support long-lasting relationships for collaboration with community stakeholders; work with communities and stakeholders in the actual context with real issues.
  • Entrepreneurize — Provide students not only with technical skills but also entrepreneurial knowledge; develop partnerships with programs on campuses and organizations in the profession to offer courses and workshops; provide students with skills and opportunities to pursue alternative practices.
  • (Re)organize – Examine critically how education and professional practices in landscape architecture are organized; collaborate with the movement organizations and find critical intersections of our work; identify allies and build coalitions and greater capacity for the profession
  • Democratize – Begin by reexamining the power structure within our educational institutions; fully engage students, faculty, and the professional community in program decision and implementation; ensure that all voices are included in courses, projects, and initiatives; build capacity in the community we work with.

This framework and additional recommendations in the report drew from discussions at national conferences, an online survey, and interviews with practitioners and program leaders in the U.S. We explored the skills and knowledge required for design activists and the challenges and opportunities facing the integration of design activism into landscape architecture education. To learn from the existing efforts in the field, we further examined the current models of engaged learning that included community design centers, community-university partnerships, and service-learning programs.

Landscape architecture students worked with students and professionals from other disciplines to create social design solutions for issues ranging from racial inequality to voting right. / Jeffrey Hou

As educational programs in landscape architecture vary in their focus, size, and organization, and as they respond often to different contexts and constituents, the proposals here are not meant to be one-size-fits-all, nor are they exhaustive. Instead, we ask each program and school to assess its own mission and goals and develop appropriate strategies and actions together with students, faculty, and the professional community.

While the framework and suggested actions are specific to education, we firmly believe integrating this mission in the professional world of landscape architecture is also essential. A broader transformation can only occur through collaboration between education, practice, and social engagement.

Learn more about the project.

The report was the outcome of a Landscape Architecture Foundation Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership awarded to Jeffrey Hou, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle, with the support of a working group whose members include: Kofi Boone, FASLA, North Carolina State University; Mallika Bose Pennsylvania State University; Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, Arizona State University; David de la Peña, University of California, Davis; Joern Langhorst, University of Colorado, Denver; Laura Lawson, ASLA, Rutgers University; Michael Rios, University of California, Davis; Deni Ruggeri, Norwegian University of Life Sciences; and Julie Stevens, ASLA, Iowa State University.