Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2020

Harbor Spring, Michigan / Robert Gibbs

While we look ahead to what’s new in the built and natural environments, it’s also valuable to look back at what attracted readers’ attention the most last year. Here’s a review of the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2020.

Readers wanted to know more about the causes of the pandemic and its impacts on human and environmental health and local economies. Contributions from ASLA members explored the health risks of destroying biodiversity and expanding into natural areas and offered creative planning and design solutions to reduce the chances of another virus-driven catastrophe. Amid the global Black Lives Matter protest movement, readers also sought to learn more from Black landscape architects on their experiences with racism — and the need to preserve and celebrate Black landscapes.

ASLA members: please send us your original op-eds or articles on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

After Lockdown, New Opportunities for Downtown Shopping Districts

Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “Since the earliest human settlements, the retail experience has evolved to meet the needs of the public. This evolution has taken us from rural markets to towns, cities, suburban shopping malls, big box mega-stores, and, more recently, the Internet. But what will retail shopping look like once COVID-19 lockdowns are over and people return to the wild for their shopping experiences?”

Interview with Walter Hood: Black Landscapes Matter

Walter Hood, ASLA: “Sometimes places are palimpsests, meaning part of the brick and mortar, and some of them are based in memories, the passing of time. For people of color who are marginalized, stories get lost. Each project is fraught with chance. I am not trying to solve a problem, per se. I’m trying to put something out in the world that has been covered up, erased, which might allow people to see the world and themselves in a different way.”

Interactive Maps Track Western Wildfires

Amid the continuing devastation, an interactive map from ESRI, which creates geographic information system software, enables users to track active fires by name or location in near real time and sort by timeline and magnitude. The map indicates each fire’s estimated start date and its current level of containment. Another layer provides a smoke forecast for any given location.

The Pandemic Offers an Opportunity to Re-Wild Our Communities

Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA: “My view is that feral green agglomerations will pop up across cities and suburbs. Residents will benefit from their habitat patches, stormwater storage, carbon sequestration, and makeshift community gathering areas.”

Biodiversity and Pandemic Diseases (or How We Came to Know Our World in 2020)

Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “In the 21st century, globalized economic growth has reached the end of its rope. Economies can’t continue to expand without creating new pandemic risks, as more people press up against the habitat of more wildlife or raise domestic animals in unhealthy conditions. We’re now part of one big, highly connected planetary ecosystem that’s going to bite us back hard if we step on it the wrong way.”

Amid the Pandemic, Take Time to Reconnect with Nature

If you are in a place impacted by COVID-19, spending 20 minutes experiencing nature in a park, street, or even your backyard can significantly reduce your stress levels. Just be sure to follow federal, state, and local guidelines and maintain social distancing of 6 feet. But even if you cannot or are unable to go outside, taking a break by opening a window and looking at a tree or plant can also help de-stress.

Suburban Sprawl Increases the Risk of Future Pandemics

Michael Grove, FASLA: “Degraded habitats of any kind can create conditions for viruses to cross over, whether in Accra or Austin. The disruption of habitat to support our suburban lifestyle is bringing us closer to species with which we have rarely had contact. By infringing on these ecosystems, we reduce the natural barriers between humans and host species, creating ideal conditions for diseases to spread. These microbes are not naturally human pathogens. They become human pathogens because we offer them that opportunity.”

Asia’s Largest Urban Rooftop Farm Is a Model of Integrated Design

At first, the images of Thammasat University Rooftop Farm seem like renderings, but they are in fact real. Designed by Landprocess, which is led by landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, the 1.7-acre rooftop farm in Bangkok, Thailand, is not only mesmerizing but also a model of sustainable multi-use infrastructure.

I Could Have Been Ahmaud Arbery

Andrew Sargeant, ASLA: “We must change the narrative about investing in Black landscape architects and other minority designers as ‘helping them.’ Investment in diverse people and communities is investing in the future of the profession. I don’t want ‘help.'”

How Will the Pandemic Impact the Built Environment?

Throughout the Congress for New Urbanism’s Virtual Gathering, landscape architects, planners, architects, and developers struggled to figure out how the pandemic is impacting communities and the built environment — and tried to foresee what changes are coming in the near future.

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

25 Cottage Street, Brookline, Massachusetts / Brookline Preservation Commission, via The Architect’s Newspaper

H. H. Richardson and John Charles Olmsted Homes Get Temporary Reprieve from the Wrecking Ball — 12/31/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Brookline’s Green Hill historic district reflected an ‘extraordinary confluence’ of design talent […] Frederick Law Olmsted, John Charles Olmsted, and H. H. Richardson ‘worked within yards of one another, shaping Nineteenth and early Twentieth-Century architecture and landscape design in ways that continue to reverberate today.'”

Landscape Architecture and Industrial Design Feature in UNSW Sydney’s Varied Student Show — 12/23/20, Dezeen
“Landscape design that explores urban nature and an ergonomic chair designed for musicians are among the varied student projects exhibited in part two of the UNSW Sydney’s school show.”

Op-Ed: How to Fix a National Register of Historic Places That Reflects Mostly White History — 12/22/20, The Los Angeles Times
“Less than 8% of sites on the National Register are associated with women, Latinos, African Americans or other minorities. The César E. Chávez National Monument, established just eight years ago, was the first unit in the National Park System commemorating any aspect of modern Latino history.”

Nominee Buttigieg Vows To Dismantle ‘Racist’ Freeways — 12/22/20, Streetsblog
“President-elect Biden’s path breaking pick for Transportation Secretary says he’ll reverse decades of discriminatory planning by expanding public transit and, most important, dismantling urban freeways that were built to destroy Black communities and led to decades of health and wealth inequity.”

City of Boston Is Working with Architectural Firm to Rethink Copley Square — 12/16/20, The Boston Globe
“’We have a much-loved square which hasn’t seen any updates since the late ’80s and wasn’t designed for the kind of traffic it now gets in the 21st century,’ said Kate Tooke, a landscape architect at Sasaki, a Watertown-based global design firm that has been hired by the Walsh administration to design upgrades for the square.”

Black Cultural Landscapes Can Be a Source of Healing

Black Bottom before urban renewal / “Urban Renewal and the Destruction of Black Bottom.” Environmental History in Detroit. University of Michigan, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2015, via Looking Glass

Black American cultural landscapes are often made invisible and disrespected. During a session at reVISION ASLA 2020, three Black women landscape architects and students explained how these places can instead form the basis of more affirming, inclusive, and resonant place-making today, which in turn can help heal the scars of the past.

“The bottom is the lowest point, the deepest part, a place with marshy soil. It’s also a colloquial term for Black landscapes that are no good, devalued, and vulnerable,” explained Ujijji Davis Williams, ASLA, an urban planner and landscape architect with SmithGroup.

In many cities, “the bottom is where Black people were confined to live.” Escaping the Jim Crow-era racism of the South, Black migrants moved to northern cities and took up residence in these low-lying areas, which often experienced flooding and offered very limited access to the rest of the city. Later, Black Americans were redlined into these areas, which they still invested in and made into livable communities. In Washington, D.C. there is Foggy Bottom. In Detroit, Michigan, Black Bottom, and in Richmond, Virginia, Shockoe Bottom, among others. While in some instances these names have remained, the Black communties that once lived there have not.

Davis Williams wrote an essay — The Bottom: The Emergence and Erasure of Black American Urban Landscapes — in Columbia University’s Avery Review that outlines the history of these forgottenvernacular landscapes.” In Detroit, Black Bottom was used for industrial purposes, resulting in a “dirty, heavily polluted landscape.” In the 50s and 60s, the community was raised to make way for a highway as part of “urban renewal efforts.” Today, the area is known as Lafayette Park and is seen as an “exclusive, high-value neighborhood.” Now the site of Mies van der Rohe-designed apartment complexes, the original Black Bottom is a coveted neighborhood. The place was “transformed; the narrative had changed.”

Lafayette Park, Detroit / Wikipedia, Mikerussell, CC BY-SA 3.0

“What could have Black Bottom been if it was left alone — or even included in the rest of the city?” To answer the question, Davis Williams said it’s important to undertake a process of “landscape reconciliation,” which is “not about memorializing but transforming residual impacts and undertaking a healing process.”

For Whitney Barr, ASLA, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate at the University of Georgia, Sapelo Island, a state-protected barrier island in McIntosh County, Georgia, is a fascinating Black cultural landscape that offers a way for contemporary Black Americans to heal from the wounds of hundreds of years of enforced labor on the land.

The island, which is 11 miles long by 3 miles wide, has one convenience store, a bar, no doctors, and is only accessible by ferry. Settled by white slave owners and nearly 400 enslaved West Africans, the island’s massive plantations grew sugar cane, cotton, and other crops. From a population high of 600, there are just 45 Gullah-Geechee people left in Hog Hammock, a historically Black community. The Gullah-Geechee are descendants of those enslaved West Africans and decided to stay after Reconstruction.

Residents of Hog Hammock, Sapelo Island, Georgia / photo by Evangelio Gonzalez, courtesy Creative Commons, 2017, via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Barr has been studying the Hog Hammock agricultural landscape, seeking ways to use design to reconnect Black Americans to the soil in a healing way. Referring to Dr. Anneliese Singh’s book, The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing, Barr explained how Black Americans can move from conforming to white culture to a sense of “integrative awareness,” which involves steps such as deep immersion in Black culture. By re-educating Black Americans about West African food and unlearning white approaches, they can get to a place where “they no longer think of agriculture as bad.” Regenerative agriculture and cultural regeneration go hand in hand.

Whitney Barr with Amaranth / College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia

In a set of plots on private land (much of Hog Hammock is owned by Georgia Heritage, a state authority), Barr has been working with residents to plant sugarcane, indigo, sugar peas, herbs, and hibiscus, sweet potato, and garlic. Youth participants decide what they want to plant.

During planting and harvesting events, “we give people permission to process — they can work solo or participate in conversations.” Barr and other designers have laid out spaces, created wayfinding systems and “peek and reveal spaces,” along with bioswales for stormwater management. There are educational and play spaces that help participants “re-imagine Black joy.” In addition to re-connecting with their landscape heritage in an affirming way, the goal is for residents to generate revenue and increase self-sufficiency, so as to reduce trips on the ferry for groceries.

Anjelyque Easley, Student ASLA, who is studying for her master’s of landscape architecture degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, has been delving into Black burial sites, which are often disturbed sites or have been built upon. The ones that remain intact are “desolate places” that suffer from “ignorance, lack of respect, and lack of documentation.” Easley’s goal is to investigate these sites, learn the names of the people buried, document the landscapes, and bring them new respect. “There are human beings there, not second class citizens.”

Even in tony Georgetown, Washington, D.C., the black cemetery Mount Zion is in a state of disrepair. The cemetery, which is 3.5 acres, is actually two separate cemeteries — Mount Zion Cemetery and Female Union Band Society Cemetery — and became a predominantly Black burial site starting in the mid-1800s. While the cemetery is adjacent to the predominantly white Oakhill cemetery, which is in pristine condition, Mount Zion is “largely ignored,” with broken tombstones and overgrown vegetation.

Mount Zion cemetery, Georgetown / Wikipedia, AgnosticPreachersKid, CC BY-SA 3.0

In discussing Mount Zion and other cemeteries in Texas, Easley concluded that Black burial sites leave an important legacy for future generations. The way forward is to recognize the error of failing to invest in their restoration and maintenance. “Planners, developers, and designers can reconcile with these places by offering new respect, convening, and memorializing to create places of healing.”

As Davis Williams explained early in the lecture, reconciling with the past can lead to a freer future rooted in equity and equality. “To move forward, we need to create a sustainable future that includes everyone.”

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

Westhampton Park topographical map / Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, via The Roanoke Times

How a University of Richmond Researcher Uncovered the Campus’ Forgotten Connection to Slavery — 12/14/20, The Roanoke Times
“Driskill was sick with the flu, searching for images of Westhampton Park, when she found a significant piece to the puzzle — a 1901 topographical map drawn by the Olmsted firm. To the east of the lake were written the words ‘grave yard.'”

Remembering Carol R. Johnson — 12/14/20, The Cultural Landscape Foundation
“Carol R. Johnson, founder of what became one of the largest woman-owned landscape architecture practices in the United States, died December 11, 2020, in Boothbay Harbor, ME; she was 91. She began her career with small residential commissions, then public housing projects and college campuses, followed by civic and corporate work in the U.S. and abroad.”

MoMa Urged to Drop Philip Johnson’s Name over Architect’s Fascist Past — 12/13/20, The Guardian
“New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is under growing pressure to remove Philip Johnson’s name from its galleries and titles after Harvard addressed the late architect’s legacy at the university, saying his history of racism, fascism and white supremacy had ‘absolutely no place in design.'”

Ultra-Modern Addition Updates a Craftsman-Style House in St. Paul — 12/11/20, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Ji, a landscape architect with Coen + Partners, did take some design cues from her home’s original character.”

‘Arts Organizations Are Back in Business’: NYC Performances Prep for Spring 2021 — 12/08/20, NY Daily News
“Starting March 1, beleaguered artists will be able to stage ticketed concerts, plays, sketches and more on city streets and other open spaces, thanks to a bill set to be passed in the City Council on Thursday.”

Back at It — 12/08/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“James Corner talks second chances, holistic design, and ‘lifting people up’ through planning.”

Best Books of 2020

Black Landscapes Matter / University of Virginia Press

During this unforgettable year, a number of new books were published that renew our hope for racial justice, human and environmental health, and climate action. For those spending time at home over the holidays, now is a great time to explore bold new ideas through books. Whether you are looking for the perfect gift or a meaningful read for yourself, explore THE DIRT’s best books of 2020:

Black Landscapes Matter
University of Virginia Press, 2020

Landscape designer and artist Walter Hood, ASLA, and writer and educator Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, have co-edited a very personal volume of contributions from Black landscape architecture thought leaders, such as Kofi Boone, FASLA, Austin Allen, ASLA, Louise A. Mozingo, and urban planner Maurice Cox. Rich visual essays of photographs and design renderings are interspersed amid the contributions, which explore the deep yet often unrecognized history of Black American landscapes and make a powerful case for researching, honoring, and preserving these places. Through greater understanding, landscape architects and designers can create landscapes that are more honest about American history, more respectful of diversity and difference, and encourage greater inclusion. As Hood explains, “Black landscape matter because they are renewable. We can uncover, exhume, validate, and celebrate these landscapes through new narratives and stories that choose to return us to origins.” Read an interview with Hood.

The Art of Earth Architecture / Princeton Architectural Press

The Art of Earth Architecture: Past, Present, and Future
Princeton Architectural Press, 2020

This gorgeous 500-page door stopper of a book, which is more than a foot tall, makes the case for using raw earth — not baked or fired earth — to build our homes and communities. Used for thousands of years, across many cultures, raw earth is one of the most sustainable building materials invented. Earth architecture is clearly a passion of former Centre Pompidou curator Jean Dethier, who ably mixes in diverse contributions and finds fascinating cases that span the millennia and continents. Raw earth building isn’t just for ancient kingdoms; a whole chapter on “contemporary creativity” shows the potential of the building technology as a critical climate change solution today. The book is part National Geographic-style photographic odyssey; part architectural call to action.

Alex MacLean Impact / Birkhäuser

Impact: The Effect of Climate Change on Coastlines
Birkhäuser, 2020

Aerial photographer Alex MacLean’s latest book captures our Atlantic and Gulf coastal communities at their most vulnerable. Even in a media environment inundated with images of climate change, MacLean’s photos have the ability to shock. Read the full review.

The Invention of Public Space: Designing for Inclusion in Lindsay’s New York / University of Minnesota Press

The Invention of Public Space: Designing for Inclusion in Lindsay’s New York
University of Minnesota Press, 2020

Mariana Mogilevich, a historian of architecture and urbanism and editor-in-chief of Urban Omnibus, the online publication of The Architectural League of New York, has written about a moment in history in New York City, during the administration of Mayor John V. Lindsay in the mid-1960s through the early 70s, “when designers, government administrators, and residents sought to remake the city in the image of a diverse, free, and democratic society.” Through extensive archival research, site work, interviews, and the analysis of film and photographs, Mogilevich delves into how theories of psychology and inclusion influenced the work of landscape architects Paul Friedberg, FASLA, and Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, as well as the architects of New York City’s Urban Design Group.

Leadership for Sustainability: Strategies for Tackling Wicked Problems / Island Press

Leadership for Sustainability: Strategies for Tackling Wicked Problems
Island Press, 2020

Written for professionals working in sustainability and environmental security, the new book by authors R. Bruce Hull, David P. Robertson, and Michael Mortimer provides a roadmap of the challenges and opportunities of the Anthropocene, a leadership toolbox, and a storybook of “wicked leadership” in practice. This practical guide provides clear leadership strategies that support emerging and seasoned planning and design professionals alike. Read the full review.

Lo–TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism / Taschen

Lo―TEK. Design by Radical Indigenism
Taschen, 2020

Lo–TEK catalogues indigenous technologies from across the globe, positing that scaling and hybridizing them with conventional technologies can provide a new vocabulary of sustainable innovations in the built environment. Watson, an Australia-born and New York–based architect, activist, academic, and founder of both Julia Watson and A Future Studio, researched and wrote Lo–TEK over six years. While exploring 18 countries, Watson pinpointed the inherent advantage of Lo–TEK design: it is “both an everyday response for human survival and an extraordinary response to environmental extremes, such as famine, flood, frost, drought, and disease.” Read the full review.

New Horizons: Eight Perspectives on Chinese Landscape Architecture Today / Birkhäuser

New Horizons: Eight Perspectives on Chinese Landscape Architecture Today
Birkhäuser, 2020

In a compelling survey of eight contemporary Chinese landscape architecture practices, Jutta Kehrer, director at LAC in Hong Kong and former design director at AECOM, shows the incredible breath of creativity across China. The emerging firms are creating striking and sustainable contemporary places rooted in traditional and vernacular styles. In an essay, Jeffrey Hou, ASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, writes that “these firms put design in service of community building, local economic development, and reinvestment in place, people, and processes.” And Ron Henderson, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, notes that “there is a revived confidence explicit in the work.”

Parks and Recreation System Planning: A New Approach for Creating Sustainable, Resilient Communities / Island Press

Parks and Recreation System Planning: A New Approach for Creating Sustainable, Resilient Communities
Island Press, 2020

Landscape architect David Barth, ASLA, argues that “the majority of parks and recreation system plans address traditional parks and recreation improvements, rather than community-wide issues.” Barth provides a much-needed contemporary approach, calling for park and recreation systems to address racial and social inequities and climate change and become more interconnected. He also outlines how parks and recreational sites can become “high-performing public spaces.” Together, these approaches can help public parks and recreation departments transcend their silos and better partner with other government agencies and private park conservancies and developers to create park and recreation systems that work better for the entire community.

Planetary Health: Protecting Nature to Protect Ourselves / Island Press

Planetary Health: Protecting Nature to Protect Ourselves
Island Press, 2020

Dr. Howard Frumkin is the former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Samuel Myers is principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Together, they have put together a thought-provoking and rich 500-page overview of the emerging field of planetary health. We are given a roadmap for how to undo the damage to the Earth and live in a way that is more respectful of the planet’s limited capacity. The authors convince us to take this path not just for nature’s sake but also for our own future health and well-being. Read the full review.

Transforming Landscapes: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste

Transforming Landscapes: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste
Birkhäuser, 2020

The French landscape architect Michel Desvigne isn’t well-known in the U.S. but a new monograph of his firm’s work from the publisher Birkhäuser should help change that. Transforming Landscapes beautifully conveys Desvigne’s simple yet striking parks, plazas, and master plans. There is a sense of clarity in his work that emerges as you look through the book’s many rich color photographs. The book is entirely focused on Desvigne’s public projects, which is where his passion lies. Read the full review.

Buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs.

A Necessary Book: Lo–TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism

Lo–TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism / Taschen

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA

In 1964, architect, engineer, and critic Bernard Rudofsky curated the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition Architecture Without Architects in order to shatter the exclusive and discriminatory canon of architectural history, which was long overdue for redress. The exhibition examined “non-pedigreed architecture,” which, “for want of a generic label,” Rudofsky called “vernacular, anonymous, spontaneous, indigenous, rural.”

Julia Watson continues that discussion in her necessary new book Lo–TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism and introduces a new term: Lo–TEK—a meshing of “lo-tech” and TEK, which abbreviates Traditional Ecological Knowledge—redefines indigenous innovation and technology as models of symbiosis between humankind and nature–ones we direly need to confront the crisis of climate change. Radical indigenism advocates refashioning knowledge systems to include indigenous philosophies and create new discourses. Design that incorporates radical indigenism creates sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure.

Lo–TEK catalogues indigenous technologies from across the globe, positing that scaling and hybridizing them with conventional technologies can provide a new vocabulary of sustainable innovations in the built environment. Watson, an Australia-born and New York–based architect, activist, academic, and founder of both Julia Watson and A Future Studio, researched and wrote Lo–TEK over six years. Exploring 18 countries, she pinpointed the inherent advantage of Lo–TEK design: it is “both an everyday response for human survival and an extraordinary response to environmental extremes, such as famine, flood, frost, drought, and disease.”

The technologies she presents span ecosystems and purposes: they purify water, grow food, maintain biodiversity, collect rain and groundwater, and enable habitation of aquatic and arid locales, to name a few.

The Ifugao people’s palayan rice terraces in the Philippines simultaneously irrigate, filter water, and support community-based rice farming. The Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania construct boma acacia corrals that prompt desert afforestation and ecological succession in lands grappling with desertification.

Sustainable agricultural practices increase productivity and preserve biodiversity. In Mexico, the Mayan people’s milpa system uses a cycle of burning, mulching, and fallowing to encourage forest succession, soil fertility, and polyculture gardens. In Tanzania, the Chagga people’s kihamba forest gardens support over 500 species by inter-cropping trees with agriculture.

In Tanzania, the Chagga people manage kihamba forest gardens. / Julia Watson, Taschen

The Ma’dan people in Iraq and the Uros people in Peru demonstrate how to live with water using buoyant, biodegradable infrastructure. All innovations are local, affordable, and made by hand. They enable the sustenance of both people and resources, not their exploitation. They rely upon indigenous communities remaining on their ancestral lands—unlike many conservation efforts. And “rather than primitive, as Le Corbusier would say, this knowledge is primal and known to us all,” Watson writes.

On Peru’s Lake Titicaca, the Uros people construct islands from totora reeds / Julia Watson, Taschen

Designers in search of new tools and models to counter the mounting threats posed by climate change will find this book an accessible compilation of sustainable landscape innovations. Structured by ecosystem, the book categorizes the technologies as mountain, forest, desert, or wetland.

Each innovation receives a detailed description of its use and integral role inside the culture that created it. Sometimes interviews delve further into a design and its culture, like Jassim Al-Asadi’s insight into the floating civilizations of the Iraqi wetlands. Drawn diagrams break down each innovation. One could imagine a design firm nonchalantly co-opting certain elements—maybe the bheri wastewater treatment system used by the Bengalese people in Kolkata, or the waru waru cut-and-fill micro-topography of the Inca in Peru—within otherwise non-radical designs.

Each day, Kolkata’s bheri wastewater aquaculture system filters half of the city’s sewage. / Julia Watson, Taschen

What will be harder to co-opt is the spirituality intrinsic to these indigenous technologies and the cultures from which they emerge. A worldview encompassing religion, ethics, and systems of belief is inherent to their ecosystem management.

In Bali, the Subak people, who maintain highly biodiverse and productive subak rice terraces, practice water temple rituals based in their belief that the goddess Dewi Danu provides their irrigation water. J. Stephen Lansing, director of the Complexity Institute at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, notes such understandings are not so-called “‘magical’ ideas.” They’re critical to the operation of these landscapes; the temples are the locus of a cooperative water distribution system. Though the technologies themselves are innovative, the people tending them ultimately ensure their performance through their systems of belief. Lansing writes: “the wedding of these ideas with the managerial capacity of temple networks provides powerful tools for communities to impose an imagined order on the world.”

It’s in part the very dearth of the spiritual that Watson asks her readers to question. In championing indigenous technologies, she invites readers to critique the mythology of technology that has dominated the world since the Enlightenment.

Adherence to this myth—itself an outgrowth of humanism, colonialism, and racism—has fueled resource extraction and the dismissal of natural systems. Questioning it means interrogating its hegemony, homogeneity, and sidelining of indigenous peoples and wisdom. After all, in many indigenous cultures, “spirituality in the landscapes is directly related to sustainability and resource management.” Watson suggests embracing a different and new mythology of technology, one that unites humanism with radical indigenism.

Advocating that nuanced practices deeply rooted in indigenous cultures can be extricated from their contexts and duplicated, hybridized, or adapted engenders a tricky balancing act. Watson herself notes that popular culture in our current eco-friendly era encourages milquetoast versions of greenwashing premised upon a merged spiritual and scientific understandings of the environment.

It’s dangerously easy to cross the line into romanticizing indigenous cultures, as has been wont over the past several hundred years. In the US landscape, for instance, permutations of the mythology of technology materialized as manifest destiny and the fiction of empty space. “Like imperialism itself, landscape is an object of nostalgia in a postcolonial and postmodern era,” writes W. J. T. Mitchell, “reflecting a time when metropolitan cultures could imagine their destiny in an unbounded ‘prospect’ of endless appropriation and conquest.”

Watson, from the vantage of our postcolonial era, nods to this nostalgia by asserting indigenous techniques as components of myth. But in also calling out technology as myth, she proposes a subversion of it with a co-evolved mythology that joins the two. She checks myth with myth.

The danger in Watson’s proposal would be that in building this new mythology, indigenous innovations and the people behind them become assimilated and appropriated by technology’s homogenizing forces. Throughout Lo–TEK, Watson repeats that indigenous technologies offer “clues,” “inspiration,” and “models” for a future built environment of soft systems that collaborate with nature, but she stops short of articulating precisely how. “They are not instructions, but, like a compass, they provide an orientation rather than a map for the future,” she writes.

Nonetheless, one may still crave more specificity from Watson, who from her thorough field research certainly has some ideas. If Lo–TEK offers a timely, overdue, and respectful catalogue of indigenous technologies that can bring wisdom, other voices, and heterogeneity to our current unsustainable paradigm, the next effort lies in determining how to realize and maintain those heterogeneities.

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and co-editor of the new book Black Landscapes Matter.

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

Xuhui Runway Park, Shanghai, China / Courtesy Insaw Photography, via Metropolis

Shanghai’s Longhua Airport Is Converted into a New Public Park — 11/30/20, Metropolis
“Designed by Sasaki, Xuhui offers a palimpsest of a reused airport, preserving its materials and forms. The 36-acre space is an intensely ‘linear composition,’ says Dou Zhang, senior associate director of Sasaki’s Shanghai office.”

There’s No Room for Teens in the Pandemic City — 11/30/20, Bloomberg CityLab
“With schools remote, sports canceled, and libraries closed, teenagers in many U.S. cities find themselves unwelcome in parks and public spaces.”

Ford Reveals Plans for Michigan Central, a 30-acre “Mobility Innovation District” in Detroit’s Corktown — 11/24/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“As for the disused rail tracks-turned-mobility platform behind Central Station, that effort is being headed by Boston-based landscape architecture studio Mikyoung Kim Design in partnership with Detroit-based livingLAB.”

Mellon Park, ‘a Prime Example of Landscape Design,’ Is up for Historic Designation — 11/23/20, Next Pittsburgh
“Dating to 1910, the property consists of pastoral parkland, formal gardens, a fountain and several buildings that once were part of estates belonging to the Mellon, Marshall, Scaife, Frew and Darsie families.”

More Parks, Longer Lives — 11/19/20, Parks & Recreation Magazine
“The research suggests that if all the census tracts in L.A. County expanded park access up to the county median, it could add up to 164,700 years in life-expectancy gains for residents living in park-poor tracts. Latino and Black community residents comprise almost 72 percent of the gain (118,000 years).”

Google Launches New Tool to Help Cities Stay Cool — 11/18/20, The Verge
“Google’s new Tree Canopy Lab uses aerial imagery and Google’s AI to figure out where every tree is in a city. Tree Canopy Lab puts that information on an interactive map along with additional data on which neighborhoods are more densely populated and are more vulnerable to high temperatures.”

‘Tiny’ House Village for St. Louis Homeless Coming to Downtown West, Mayor Announces — 11/18/20, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Tiny houses are a lot safer, more secure and comfortable than living in a tent,’ Krewson said during a news conference, adding that the homes will create a ‘stronger foundation’ for homeless people to rebuild their lives.”

Paula Stone Williams on How to Achieve Gender Equity in the Workplace

Paula Stone Williams lived the first 60 years of her life as a man and then transitioned to life as a transgendered woman. Having experienced multiple genders, Williams offered a unique perspective on gender roles and how to achieve equity in the workplace during a keynote speech at the 2020 GreenBuild virtual conference. The speech is part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s broader efforts to create a more inclusive community.

Williams knew she was transgender at age 3 or 4, but “no gender fairy arrived” to shepherd her through the process of becoming a transgendered woman. She built a career, raised children, but felt a sense of authenticity was missing.

When she finally came out as a transgender woman in her 60s, Williams was able to be herself, but in the process lost every job, including her role as CEO of a Christian organization. “In this country, you can be fired from a religious organization for being transgender,” she said. As a trained psychotherapist and pastoral counselor, Williams continues to work with clients.

When people ask her whether she feels “100 percent woman,” she responds, “I feel 100 percent like a transgender woman.”

Life as a transgendered “alpha woman” is very different from life as an “alpha male,” she explained. “Before I had a few pairs of shirts, a few pairs of pants, and a few suits. Now, I have a closet full of clothes. You can’t wear the same thing too often or other women will notice and judge you for it.”

She told men in the audience that “the culture is tipped in your favor, and you don’t even know it.” Women in particular have a hard time being seen as leaders. “If you speak too strongly, you are known as ‘that woman,’ which means not leadership material. It’s a knife edge.”

“Men also interrupt women twice as much as they do other men.” When she was a man, Williams said she was guilty of the same: “I was a bad interrupter.” To stop this, “men need to assume women know what they are talking about.”

“Men need to show deference to women. To be a genuine ally of gender equity, men need to be an accomplice or assistant, give power to another person, and work at their direction.”

Williams offered a slew of statistics to outline the challenges for women in the workplace. White women make on average 79 cents for every dollar a white man makes; Latina women, 59 cents; and African American women, just 54 cents. Only 5.8 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, who also hold just 22 percent of senior vice presidents positions. 6.6 percent of Silicon Valley’s leaders are women, as are only 3 percent of the leaders in venture capital firms. Williams argued this helps explain why there are so few women-owned companies in Silicon Valley. Just 15 percent of partners in legal firms are women. Only 17 percent of Wikipedia entries are about women.

Despite the lack of opportunity, women can be more effective leaders, Williams believes, because they are inherently better at “compromise, collaboration, and correction,” which are key leadership traits. “Women are more willing to compromise and have less of their ego at stake. They can find a workable solution. Women collaborate as equals. They are also better at correcting themselves, instead of doubling down like men.”

But Williams identified a few ways both women and men work against gender equity in the workplace. “Women don’t empower each other enough and often only see each other as competitors. In six years as a woman, I have had more struggles with other women than I had as 60 years as a man.” Williams said her five young granddaughters are “already in deep competition with each other.”

To achieve greater gender equality, women need to better support each other, say “I’ve got this” to men more often, and stop apologizing for themselves and their talents. In turn, men need to offer more deference to women and listen better. What is critically important is to “truly listen.”

According to Williams, sustainable design professionals working in the built environment may be further ahead than others in this regard. “You already defer to the planet and the climate and listen to the Earth, which sets you apart.”

“Women are more closely connected to the Earth. For all of us, better connecting to the Earth and its cycles is how we will achieve true gender equity in the world and equity with the planet.”

Landscape Architects Can Reduce the Pain of Climate Migration

Isle de Jean Charles
Satellite view of Isle de Jean Charles, / Google Earth

Climate change-driven migrations will occur more frequently. That was the message in a first-of-its kind session at reVISION ASLA 2020. Haley Blakeman, FASLA, a professor at Louisiana State University, said landscape architects can facilitate more successful migrations by acting as a conduit between scientists, planners, and the communities forced to migrate.

Blakeman explained her team’s efforts in helping to move the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribal community of Isle de Jean Charles, a small and increasingly submerged island in Terrebonne Parish, along the coast of Louisiana. The island has lost 98 percent of its landmass over the past 60 years.

“[Climate migration] is going to be happening in more and more places,” Blakeman said. Sea level rise is Isle de Jean Charles’ particular affliction. Elsewhere, drought, wildfires, and food insecurity will force movement.

Can landscape architects help lead these migration efforts? “Yes,” Blakeman said, but only by accepting their limitations and collaborating with migrating communities and a collective of multidisciplinary planning and design professionals.

In Blakeman’s case, this collective included geographer and resilience policy analyst Jessica Simms and sociologist Pamela Jenkins. Their expertise and knowledge of the Isle de Jean Charles community helped build a trusting relationship that has served the project well.

“It’s tricky business moving people from their home to another place,” Jenkins told attendees. “It is not an infrastructure project with a social component, but the other way around.”

Isle de Jean Charles is representative of many low-lying areas in Louisiana. The state thrives commercially on its proximity to the water. But between the oil and gas industry choking coastal wetlands and the incursion of the sea, Louisiana has lost over 1,900 square miles of coastal land in the last 90 years. Isle de Jean Charles has outpaced that trend, putting pressure on the islanders to secure their community’s future elsewhere.

sea level louisiana
Upwards of 7.8 million people in the Gulf may be affected by sea level rise / Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Dan Swenson

The tribe worked with the State of Louisiana to secure federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the move. The project is the United States’ first community-scale climate change-driven resettlement. 38 of 42 households on Isle de Jean Charles are participating, and 34 of those are moving together to a 500-acre site called “The New Isle,” according to Simms.

Simms and her team vetted about 20 potential locations in Terrebonne for re-establishing the islanders, only examining sites that were safely above sea level. 20 sites were narrowed to three, with five configurations. Site preference surveys made rounds in the community as members visited the sites.

Eventually, the community settled on a site favored by approximately 80 percent of its members, an hour’s drive from Isle de Jean Charles. Blakeman, Jenkins, and Simms liaised between the islanders and design team in order to tailor The New Isle to the community’s needs.

idjc rendering
A rendering of The New Isle community. / Waggonner & Ball, courtesy of The State of Louisiana.

While this suggests a tidy process, Simms reminded the audience that forced migration is inherently traumatic. “Their identities are wrapped up in the island that is going away,” Simms said.

Most tribal members were born and raised on the island and are well attuned to the place. In a departure from previous policies, which barred those migrating from retaining ownership of their existing land, the islanders were allowed to maintain ownership and access to their land and homes, though not allowed to live there. This policy change was critical to achieving community buy-in.

This buy-in is critical to the success of any forced migration effort, Jenkins explained. She quoted a figure from Anthony Oliver-Smith, an academic in the field of disasters and their social impacts, saying 90 percent of such migrations fail. Existing social fault lines, poor communications between the community and the professionals involved, and a lack of available funds often doom climate migrations.

community design session
Jenkins and Blakeman (far left) meet with community members to discuss issues related to their future home. / Haley Blakeman

And while the Isle de Jean Charles migration is heading towards success, all of the speakers emphasized that it does not represent a model. There are lessons to be learned from the effort, but each future migration undertaking must be community- and context-specific.

Construction on the homes of The New Isle began in May and will finish in 2021, according to Simms. The new community will sit 12 feet above sea level.

Towards a New Landscape of Racial Justice

Hunts Point Riverside Park, South Bronx, NY / Rudy Brunner Award

“We need to take a hard look at the racial injustice that has poisoned American society. This is an issue for all professions — it’s not unique to landscape architecture,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, the new CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), during the first general session of reVISION ASLA 2020.

“Racism has played a role in countless development and design decisions, environmental injustice, and disinvestment in many communities.” To start on a new path, ASLA, as a professional society, and landscape architecture firms need to have an “essential dialogue that can help us all move forward,” Carter-Conneen said.

Carter-Conneen brought more than a thousand virtual attendees through a wide-ranging discussion with Majora Carter, an urban revitalization strategist who led the creation of Hunts Point Riverside Park, the first new park in the South Bronx in 60 years; and landscape designer and artist Walter Hood, ASLA, who is designing the landscape of the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, South Carolina, and co-editor of the new book Black Landscapes Matter.

Instead of focusing on diversity, Hood argued the best way to move forward is to celebrate our differences, which can be “empowering.” As part of this, we need to “create broader definitions of landscapes” and move past “colonial landscapes in which everything is the same.” He stated that “everything is not the same — that is the fiction of the colonial landscape.”

Underserved communities of color can also move past tired conversations around gentrification and development. Instead of seeing all new community-driven development as bad, it’s important to understand the nuances rooted in history.

“The communities that are now being gentrified were once redlined and created out of inequality. These places have largely stayed the same, because they were once where they stuck Black folks and all the crap, devaluing these neighborhoods.”

Prior to being devalued and redlined, these communities were actually “historically very diverse, with a mix of working class people.” So, for Hood, the solution is not to further maintain the “ghetto,” but to “reshape it, dismantling segregation through amazing artistry and advocacy.” Planning and designing neighborhoods that restore historic diversity will lead to places “where people can live together.”

But Hood also noted that after some neighborhoods integrated in the 1960s, “many white people fled to the suburbs.” It’s unclear what the future will bring: “To live together or not — this is the big conundrum of the 21st century.”

Carter has called for historically “low-status” communities like the South Bronx to “self-gentrify.” This is driven by her desire to retain talent in these communities. “You don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one. In the past, it has been about growing up and getting out. But there is already lots of value in these communities.”

In fact, predatory real estate speculators have long seen the value, which is why perhaps so many historically marginalized and underserved communities fear development. Self-gentrification is different though: it’s about communities seeing the value and making improvements for themselves, reaping the rewards in the process.

Carter said she has recently stopped using the term self-gentrification because it is “too triggering for some.” While some people “get it right away,” others may see nefarious motives. “But I stand by the concept. The idea that there is no value in these communities is untrue. I want to mess with that idea.”

Hood largely concurred, arguing that he has purposefully kept his studio in West Oakland, a predominantly Black community, because “I’ve been here 25 years. This is my place, people here look like me, and it’s key to establishing self.” Plus, he added that “I can’t trust my future to someone else.” The future of West Oakland needs to be protected by the people who have deep roots there. They can beautify and improve it best.

2020 is the year of the pandemic. And in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by the police, it’s also the year of reckoning about racial injustice. When asked what the turmoil of this year means for low-status communities in the future, Carter said “I am hopeful and pray that the changes will turn into something real.”

She believes there is a great opportunity to help revitalize “low-status communities, including inner-city communities, poor white communities that have seen the loss of manufacturing, and indigenous reservations.” This can be realized through renewed investment in green infrastructure, which creates good-paying green jobs.

Hood argued that with the pandemic, “more people now see the value of the working class. We even came up new terms for them” — essential workers or first-line defenders.

Hood’s new book Black Landscapes Matter, co-edited with Grace Mitchell Tada, offers a way to further understand how landscapes have shaped race relations in the U.S. The book came out of a series of lectures Hood organized after a series of police killings of Black people in 2016. For him, the killing of Michael Brown was particularly impactful.

“The landscape where he was killed was familiar, outside a liquor store. I know that store, that street.” After Brown was gunned down, he was left in the middle of the road for hours.

Places enable or disable these kinds of behaviors. “Certain back drops make you afraid that someone could kill you there. These places look a certain way and give people the right.” Hood pointed to George Floyd and the check cashing store he went into. “These places have signs and symbols.”

One way to change the deadly narrative of these places for people of color is to change the narrative of the landscapes. As an example, he pointed to his project — 7th Street Dancing Lights in Oakland— that created towering 8-foot-tall images of African Americans over a road. “When people see the images, they wonder, ‘what is that?’ They may see the place differently” — and then interact with the people there more respectfully.

7th Street Dancing Lights / Hood Design Studio

This is why for Hood it’s so important to undo the homogenizing impact of colonial landscapes, which make all places seem the same, even though they aren’t. “Through post-colonial landscapes, we can articulate different origin stories — and futures. We can make change by changing the narrative.”

Carter said: “that is so brilliant. We can create agency by creating places that speak to us. This kind of work opens up all sorts of new possibilities, and it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else.”