News & Events | Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future

Evolution and Prospective Outlook

June 10, 2016

Mario Schjetnan Garduño, FASLA
Co-founder, Grupo de Diseño Urbano / GDU

This presentation was part of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future held in Philadelphia on June 10-11, 2016. Each of the 25 invited speakers was asked to write a 1,000-word “Declaration” of leadership and ideas for how landscape architecture can make its vital contribution in response to the challenges of our time and the next 50 years. These Declarations were then presented at the Summit.


50 Years of LAF’s Declaration of Concern: Evolution and Prospective Outlook

By Mario Schjetnan

The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) 1966 Declaration of Concern established very clearly concern for poor environmental conditions, social inequalities, and loss of quality of life prevalent in most North American cities at the time. It was a timely and valorous call, a moral outcry by landscape architecture leaders of the time.

To be sure, many U.S. cities have, in these past 50 years, upgraded their levels of air quality, decreased their contamination of soils and water, and improved their public open spaces. Many of these cities have rehabilitated and repopulated their city centers and habitability in general. However, many other challenges and global concerns have now arisen, including climate change, the horizontal expansion of cities, and in the U.S., still the highest levels of consumption, per person in the world, of natural resources, energy, land, and water.

Fifty years ago, Latin America had few landscape architects and not a single organized professional society or specialized school. Today, there are several schools with landscape architecture Master’s Degrees in the region and 16 associations registered in IFLA. However, in these past 50 years, the damage to the environment has grown exponentially, with desertification and loss of many ecosystems, including enormous chunks of the Amazon jungle, rainforests, wetlands, and mangrove swamps. Deterioration affects not only local and regional communities but environmental conditions at the global level. (In Mexico, between 300,000 to 400,000 people abandon their land because of soil degradation — erosion and salinization — each year.)

The urban environment in Latin America has seen phenomenal expansion. Today, Latin America has sixty-six metropolises of more than one million inhabitants and five megalopolises with 10 million inhabitants or more (Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Lima). Although many landscape architects actively participate in government and private or social organizations, their numbers are small, disproportionately small compared to the relative phenomenon of environmental problems and conditions of large numbers of urban dwellers. This is unacceptable. While there are 150,000 architects in Mexico alone, fewer than 1,000 landscape architects work in the country. (In 2015, the Observatory of Urban Mobility of the Urban Development Bank of Latin America studied 15 metropolises and found that these cities had problems of congestion and contamination, with 24 million cars, 1 million buses, and 590,000 taxis. The inhabitants lost more than 118 million hours a year just in transportation.)

Most of the global urban expansion in the next 50 years will be in the so-called developing nations: China, India, Latin America, and Africa. Already, according to The Economist, developing economies today surpass developed economies or the so-called rich countries, including the U.S., Europe, and Australia and New Zealand in multiple indicators like consumption, exports, imports, oil, steel (75%), and cement. In 2011, subscriptions to mobile phone services topped 82%, and 52% of all purchases of motor vehicles occurred in these economies.

Therefore, our call or declaration must be global because much of the environmental impact and urban growth is happening in the developing world. Yes, Eurocentric or U.S.-centric visions must change if landscape architects aspire to influence in meaningful ways the development of urban places and the viability and conservation of world resources.

Green technologies, sustainable societies and cities, and the green economy are terribly relevant for our means and aspirations.

The profession of landscape architecture is a major player, a means to achieve environmental justice, social equality, and avoid urban and rural marginality.

A green economy and technology can provide jobs and generate new economies and synergies. (In 2015, Mexico exported more dollars in the agroindustry than in the petroleum or tourist industries.)

Landscape architects must be educated, enabled, and fit to lead an authentic and urgent green evolution for a sustainable, viable, just planet.

Substantial numbers of candidates for degrees in landscape architecture will need to study in North American universities and return to their respective countries.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation can document, distribute, or disseminate successful interventions where landscape architects have improved and positively transformed communities, environments, landscapes, portions of cities, as well as peoples lives, particularly in developing countries.