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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Waste + Abundance

By Kate Chesebrough, 2016 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist


Life creates life by making anew and reconfiguring material. Today, we are covering our planet with garbage. We have plastic bobbing in waters after storm events and hillsides strewn with illegal dumping. Waste in the landscape is an indicator of the need for care. Its presence uniquely signifies spaces that have been forgotten, are de-valued, or are otherwise being robbed of integrity. We must counter the mindset and the material of waste with creative strategies.

Philosophy of Waste

Trash is deeply seated in everyday cultural practice and is the result of deeply held values. Assigned worth indicates whether it was wasted or time well spent, wasted energy or a meaningful investment of intention. The concept of waste is a black hole that blame, regret, and frustration can be thrown into. 

Garbage is a physical manifestation of manufactured materials with the eventuality of uselessness. The social and environmental costs of producing waste are externalized from the production of shiny new things. Wasteful practices depend on an economic system that prioritizes immediate gratification and maximum profits, but minimizes accountability.

Waste informs and creates scenarios outside of itself. Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter describes an “agency of things” that reverberate across natural and cultural systems. Waste is filling the landscape as it escapes the intended stream of material disposal. This is where landscape architects clearly need to act.

Political Challenge

As designers and landscape stewards, we need to have a seat at the table and exert influence during cultural, economic, and legislative discourse about waste. What if myths about the value of materials are kept alive by voices louder than our own? The opinion of the landscape architect is profound, as we speak on behalf of the landscape and the public as a codependent whole. Critical discourse about post-consumer waste means that it is no longer worthless, allowing us to re-identify with waste as both a concept and a material reality. That pause is the only place where ideas can be tested and change is possible. These are political acts. We all have a stake in this.

Design Solution

The presence of waste in the landscape is illustrative of how we can design better places and holistic systems. A thoughtful waste inventory reveals where it accumulates, what it is made of, and what it was used for. These patterns inform complex dynamics of cultural practices, user groups, topographic and hydrologic relationships, and how the site connects with others. This is an imperative design challenge, and our potential responses are limitless. We can lead the way to clean up the mess.

Toward Abundance

We can create places that hum with life at many levels. Our creative process must be generative if we wish to carry on. We must recognize waste as a political decision, as a social responsibility, and a material opportunity. We can accept this design challenge for the sake of the landscape. Together we will promote the agenda of an aesthetic of abundance.


2016 Olmsted Scholar Finalist, ASLA Associate Member, and SUNY-ESF graduate Kate Chesebrough is a landscape designer, artist, activist, and yoga instructor living in Ithaca, New York.

Meet the 2016 National Olmsted Scholar and Finalists: The Undergraduates

The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholars Program is the premier national award and recognition program for landscape architecture students. The program honors students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

Here, we showcase the 2016 undergraduate winner and finalists, who were announced in April. An independent jury of leaders in the landscape architecture profession selected them from a group of 32 undergraduate students nominated by their faculty for being exceptional student leaders. The winner receives the $15,000 undergraduate prize and each finalist receives $1,000. All of the 2016 Olmsted Scholars will be honored at LAF’s Annual Benefit in New Orleans on October 21.


National Olmsted Scholar Casey Howard of the University of Oregon

Casey shares first-place team project for the 2015 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge focused on food systems. Inspired by existing drainage technology used in agriculture, Casey and team developed a concept for a living filtration system to restore soil health, protect watersheds, and preserve productive lands.


Finalist Kathryn Chesebrough of the State University of New York

By showcasing several influential experiences, including the Red Cup Project that she led in Syracuse, New York, Kathryn shares her thoughts on the power of art, her design perspective, and sources of inspiration.


Finalist David Duperault of North Carolina A&T State University

[Video forthcoming. See bio here.]


Finalist Lyna Nget of the University of Washington

Lyna discusses her focus on evidence-based design for sustainable, inclusive, and therapeutic environments for vulnerable populations — especially those who suffer from physical and mental illnesses and disabilities.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Biodiversity and Design

By Olivia Fragale, 2016 Olmsted Scholar Finalist


I moved to Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 to pursue a position as Assistant Researcher and Outreach Educator with the Iimbovane Project at the Department of Science and Technology - National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University. This research position involved monitoring and cataloging the species richness and diversity of native and invasive ant species of the Western Cape Providence through field sampling and lab work. My interest in studying ants was to understand the correlation between human settlement patterns and the impact this has on biodiversity.


The importance of this study was to look at the system beyond the ant. Within the Cape Floristic Region, ants play a significant role in dispersing seeds. Our team discovered a positive correlation between native ant populations and native plant growth and diversity. Sites with a high population of invasive species demonstrated a lack of native plant growth. I was drawn in by the various scales of the study. At a microscale, I was studying ants, but at the macroscale, the ant-plant mutualism relationship was about the interconnected dependencies of an ecosystem. Loss of seed production impacted seed distribution, which impacted native plant growth which impacted soil conditions, therefore increasing erosion as well as changing availability of resources in the food web. These early research endeavors in the study of biodiversity have helped shape my thinking as a designer and my aspirations to strengthen the connection between science and the design professions.


As a recent graduate of the Boston Architectural College, I am interested in the integration of relevant and current research in biodiversity into current professional practice. When thinking about our role as landscape architects, I look at the strategies used to safeguard biodiversity, including designs that:

  • Minimize and manage habitat disruption

  • Reclaim, restore, and reconnect significant ecosystems

  • Have integrated management plans to control invasive species

  • Focus on rehabilitation of contaminated soils to reintroduce positive ecological systems

  • Establish riparian buffers to protect aquatic ecosystems

This list of strategies is something to be proud of, but I believe as knowledgeable designers, we can strengthen our understanding by performing and contributing to research that is focused on monitoring biodiversity at various sites and on various scales. We have the ability to gather baseline data about urban biodiversity, standardize methods, and perform comparison studies that start to articulate and encourage the functions and benefits of designing with diversity.

So how do we measure biodiversity and how can the produced data become integrated into how we design and manage our spatial relationships? Well, biodiversity can be measured at a species level, an ecosystem level, and at the genetic level. Methods vary in their ability to reveal information about richness, evenness, rarity, disparity, and variability. In the field of ecology, the most common methods for measuring species biodiversity are the Simpson Index and the Shannon Index. Currently the Sustainable Sites Initiative and the LAF’s Landscape Performance Series and Benefits Toolkit have identified methods for measuring vegetation and biodiversity, which include the Biomass Density Index (BDI), LEED baseline information which focuses on calculating average values for regional evapotranspiration rates, species factor, density factor, and microclimate factor for each vegetation types. Collecting data and establishing measuring systems for biodiversity can inform our designs, manage our spatial relationships, and respond to scientific trends.

I am excited to participate in the collection and evaluation of valuable biodiversity data and contribute to the advancement of biodiversity-directed design strategies through the lens of my proposed research project that focuses on the relationship between biodiversity and biomimicry wastewater technologies. I believe the design of nature-inspired, living technologies is a powerful tool to align communities with the regenerative capacities of the plant’s life-supporting ecosystems. More specifically, living systems can be monitored to further understand how biodiversity is being recovered, established, and linked back into the community’s health, economic, and cultural experiences.

In my next blog post, I will elaborate on my proposed project and explore, at the community level, the important relationship between biodiversity and biomimicry wastewater technologies and how its diverse application can reveal and expose systems as they relate to human development and biological existence.

Olivia completed her MLA from Boston Architectural College in May and now works at Terraink in Arlington, Massachusetts.  While she is focused on transitioning into her new job, she looks forward to future project development.  In the meantime, she continues to pursue her project interests through continued dialogue with the research groups in South Africa and has another visit planned for 2017.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape and Cultural Identity in a Globalizing World

By Daniel Xu, 2015 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

“Place makes memories cohere in complex ways. People’s experiences of the urban landscape intertwine the sense of place and the politics of space.”
                                                       — Dolores Hayden, Architectural Historian

A long time ago, a classmate of mine told me that he could not visually distinguish the difference between a Chinese, a Korean, and a Japanese person. I laughed and told him that sometimes I could not either, because our differences were not simply in our appearances, but in our minds and ideologies, which were influenced by the native culture we were born into. However, if our minds and ideologies are so heavily influenced by culture, what makes us different in the trend of globalization and acculturation? Are we slowly becoming the same? It is an intriguing question.

Prior to 2009, I was a resident of Chengdu, one of the most populated metropolises in Western China, where traditional Chinese quadrangle dwellings are preserved and conflated with contemporary urban fabric and lifestyle. Since then, I have been a student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and a traveler to cities around the world. This experience has given me opportunities to immerse myself in diverse cultures, discover landscapes and urban spaces that are unique to different social environments, and tackle how local residents interact with those spaces.


Social psychologist Harold M. Proshansky believes that the cultural identity of a place is a sub-structure of a person’s self-identity and consists of knowledge and feelings developed through everyday experiences of physical spaces. Sometimes cultural identity and landscape are so tightly bounded that it is hard to separate them, like gardens in Versailles, Central Park in New York City, or a random prairie plateau in Aberdeen, Scotland. These spaces are historical or unique mainly because of local natural characteristics. They establish a balance between nature and human cultural activities and provide people a sense of place and belonging. However, in the global trend of uniformity and homogeneousness, how can one ensure a newly proposed landscape design can achieve the same effect? How can urban landscape enhance regional cultural identity and provide a sense a place?

To me, any given land contains information that is both tangible and intangible. It is almost natural for us to study the tangible aspects — hydrology, topography, vegetation, land use, soil type, spatial organization, and circulation system — because they have a direct relationship to the visual and ecological outcomes of a project. However, the cultural identity of a place derives from the intangible parts in which a piece of landscape functions to provide a sense of belonging — local history, tradition, religion, festivals, public desire, and other demographic information.

I demonstrated my beliefs in my past works during my time at Purdue. Natural Water as Cultural Water, a research project I did during junior year, sought to find the balance between culture and nature along the Wabash River in Lafayette, Indiana, which is currently underappreciated because of flooding, vacancy and disconnection. The proposed solution is an embodiment of cultural representation and technology of stormwater management. wabash02

The inspiration for the design comes from the city’s history — the transportation instrument Native Americans originally used on the river, and the major agricultural product of the region: corn. The geometric structure of the canoe and the matrix of the corn seeds were taken, hybridized and re-conceptualized into revelatory units to construct concave and convex landforms. It reroutes and collects water and serves as a buffer between the river and the city during flooding seasons. The plan provides a refuge for wetland plants and animal species. With potential for spontaneous use and dynamic programing, the site can transform into a sustainable landscape infrastructure with a cultural identity that provides an active waterfront experience. The regional planning phase of the project won the Award of Excellence in Analysis and Planning in the American Society of Landscape Architects 2013 Student Awards.


For more information about the project, visit the ASLA award website:, or my personal website:

Daniel received his Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Fine Arts from Purdue University in May 2015. He is currently working at Sasaki Associates in Boston.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Exploring Relationships Between People and Water

By Sarah Bolivar, 2015 University Olmsted Scholar

Now that I am in my third and final year of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Master of Landscape Architecture program, I think back to the query that brought me to the design field: how people manage water, a transboundary resource. In retrospect, this interest has remained constant, although I could not have imagined the various scales and issues I’d study pertaining to water. Through the GSD, I have been fortunate to examine stormwater in Nepal, the role of paths in the context of tsunami evacuation, and now, a thesis around tribal salmon harvest in the Pacific Northwest.

During the summer of 2014, with the support of the South Asia Institute and GSD Community Service Fellowship, I traveled 15 hours by plane and 16 hours by bus to Surkhet, Nepal, a verdant valley overlaid by housing, commerce, and agriculture in the subtropical Terai belt. A friend at Kopila Valley, a school serving 350 students, connected me with the managing non-profit, BlinkNow, which invited me to provide landscape design strategies for a new school complex. I led hands-on workshops so students could learn about landscape architecture and I could learn about their favorite spaces, but I struggled to find the best ways to integrate students’ voices into the project. One clear element was the monsoon season that would soon come, and with it, potential flooding or erosion throughout the school. Part of the design strategy revolved around tackling and revealing these water flows. A week after I returned to the states, a monsoon caused rivers to swell, and massive flooding coupled with landslides left hundreds without homes.

bolivar01-nepalSurkhet, Nepal (Image: Jack Cochran)

Given that Nepal is prone to earthquakes and landslides, I was eager to learn more about places that could serve as precedents for responding to natural disasters. With the financial support of the Asia Center and GSD Penny White Fund, my friend, Jessie Booth (MLA ‘16), and I traveled to low-density coastal cities in Japan, Kamaishi and Ishinomaki, both devastated by the 3/11 Tsunami. We sought to understand the role that landscape could play in supporting natural disaster preparedness. Specifically, we wondered how pedestrian evacuation paths could become imprinted in the collective memory to serve residents during emergency and non-emergency times.

bolivar02-japanCoastal infrastructure in Ishinomaki, Japan

One of the biggest takeaways was each city’s reconstruction plan did not necessarily work in tandem with neighboring cities’ plans. Each city could be broadly characterized either by a “bottom-up” or “top-down” reconstruction approach. Additionally, most affected cities are continuing to invest in structures that have a singular use and narrow lifespan, such as tetrapods and seawalls. This spring, Jessie and I will synthesize our research findings into a document we can share with our friends and partners in Japan.

Working in Japan and Nepal allowed me to be acutely aware of the challenges designers face when the site has a different cultural context than one’s own, the site is thousands of miles away, the work is pro-bono, and the work is conceived within an academic umbrella. Each of these conditions renders its own opportunities and challenges.

I reflect constantly on the politicized nature of my role as I develop a thesis around a place that is dear to me, the Salish Coast, located in the Pacific Northwest. In this region, I’ll be exploring the role that design can play in supporting salmon habitat and harvest to thereby protect indigenous sovereignty rights for the Lummi and Nooksack Nations. Given that indigenous people have been systematically oppressed through physical force and political contracts, I must understand that my language and actions are too, as my friend Elizabeth Bragg of the Blackfoot Nation would put it, “colored by colonizing practices of the past.”

bolivar03-nooksackriverNooksack River, general thesis site in the Pacific Northwest

And as I begin to develop the project, I come back to the issue of water, in this case, the hydrological conditions that affect salmon reproduction. With the guidance of my thesis advisor, Jane Hutton, and thesis cohort, I look forward to continuing to explore the relationship between people and water in all its multifaceted forms.

Sarah Bolivar is currently working on her thesis, as well as planning International Women’s Day on March 08 with the GSD Women in Design team.