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Olmsted Scholar Events in Los Angeles

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To recognize and build community among our 2017 Olmsted Scholars, LAF held a series of events in Los Angeles on October 19-20. Of this year’s 81 Olmsted Scholars, 38 traveled from across the U.S. and Canada (and from as far away as Hong Kong!) to participate. The Olmsted Scholars Program honors students who are nominated by their faculty for demonstrating exceptional leadership potential and using their ideas, influence, communication, and service to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

The events kicked off with the Olmsted Scholars Luncheon where the scholars had the opportunity to meet each other, the LAF Board of Directors, Board Emeriti, staff, and program sponsors. The luncheon included the award certificate ceremony and short presentations from 2017 National Olmsted Scholars David de la Cruz (MLA, University of Washington) and Lauren Delbridge (MLA, Virginia Tech).

David, winner of the $25,000 graduate prize, discussed his interest and work on environmental justice issues in his home community in South Central Los Angeles. David will work collaboratively with educators, school administrators, and students at under-resourced high schools to “build youth leadership around urban environmental issues in working-class communities and communities of color.” Lauren, winner of the $15,000 undergraduate prize, shared her thesis project and investigations into the complex nature of coal ash ponds where she is utilizing landscape architecture to develop remediation strategies that have the potential to transform these contaminated sites into multi-functioning places for human interaction, education, and experience.

Following the luncheon, the Olmsted Scholars participated in small group discussions facilitated by LAF Board Emeritus members and special guest 2011 Olmsted Scholar Billy Fleming, Research Coordinator at PennDesign’s The McHarg Center. Each shared their path, aspirations for the profession, and their own personal and professional development goals as they transition from school to professional lives and communities.

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The day concluded with a visit to Studio-MLA’s new office space on an industrial site overlooking the Los Angeles River. Thank you to LAF Board member Mia Lehrer and to Studio-MLA Senior Associates Claire Latane and Kush Parekh for hosting and sharing your inspirational and impactful work in Los Angeles.

The activities culminated the following evening with LAF’s 32nd Annual Benefit in the historic ticket concourse of Los Angeles’ Union Station. The Olmsted Scholars were among the over 600 attendees who gathered to catch up with friends and colleagues and support LAF. The scholars were recognized as part of the program, which featured the launch of LAF’s The New Landscape Declaration book and recognition of 2017 LAF Medal recipient Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.

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Thank you to the generous Olmsted Scholars Program sponsors whose support makes the financial awards and events like these possible. Lead Sponsor: The Toro Company; Annual Sponsors: EDSA, HOK, OLIN, Sasaki Associates, IRONSMITH, LandDesign, Thomas C. and Gerry D. Donnelly, Steven G. King, FASLA, and Bill Main, Hon. ASLA; Promotion Partner: American Society of Landscape Architects.

More photos from this year’s Olmsted Scholars Luncheon and LAF’s 32nd Annual Benefit can be found on LAF’s Flickr Photostream.

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration, Part 3

Inspired by LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future and the New Landscape Declaration, a group of ten Olmsted Scholars developed their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts, we are showcasing their action plans. We recently introduced Action 1 and Action 2, and this week we present Action 3:

We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution.

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ACT NOW

  • Use clear, relatable language in public presentations. Do not use jargon.
  • Foster citizen urbanists and community partners.
  • Promote the profession via social media. 
  • Educate the public on the benefits of working with landscape architects.
  • Evaluate current communication strategies and explore non-traditional and contemporary communication methods.

PLAN NOW

  • Partner with branding/marketing professionals to create a campaign to position the landscape architectural design process as relatable and relevant to the public.
  • Increase opportunities for idea competitions or conferences that foreground multi-functional, “artful and performative” landscapes to stimulate fresh solutions to local and global issues and gain visibility for the profession.
  • Seek short-term and alternative projects for their ability to catalyze public conversation, stimulate new ideas and teach the profession how to fail forward.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

Stay tuned later this month for our final post in this series on Action 4: “We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.”

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration, Part 2

Inspired by LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future and the New Landscape Declaration, a group of ten Olmsted Scholars developed their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts, we are showcasing their action plans. Earlier this month we introduced Action 1 and this week we present Action 2:

We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks.

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ACT NOW

  • Join local and global advocacy boards, governmental committees, and allied professional organizations.
  • Encourage students and emerging professionals to seek out alternative career paths in government, non-profit, advocacy, activism, research, health industries, technology, agribusiness, etc.
  • Pursue work or build relationships with clients who focus attention on marginalized communities, endangered ecosystems, and neglected places. 

PLAN NOW

  • Seek funding sources and structures for design activism and advocacy projects.
  • Make community engagement and public service a requirement for ASLA membership and/or CEUs for licensure.           
  • Expand local and state advocacy programs to encourage ecological development and reuse opportunities in urban areas while also protecting vital ecosystems and supporting underserved rural landscapes
  • Support local and national policies and programs that strengthen landscape architecture’s professional value.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

Stay tuned next week for a post on Action 3: “We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution.”

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration

After the close of LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, a group of Olmsted Scholars in attendance gathered over beer and pizza to rehash an intense 2 days of presentations and panel discussions on the demands and ambitions of the profession for the next 50 years.

Inspired by the Summit and the New Landscape Declaration, 10 of these Olmsted Scholars continued to converse through conference calls and Google documents to produce their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, we will showcase their action plans. We begin with Action1:

We will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession.
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ACT NOW

  • Join or volunteer with professional organizations that nourish diversity.
  • Financially sponsor and volunteer for landscape architecture student career discovery programs for K-12.
  • Financially sponsor and volunteer for projects in communities in-need.
  • Seek short-term and alternative projects for their ability to catalyze public conversation, stimulate new ideas and teach the profession how to fail forward.

PLAN NOW

  • Champion diverse leadership and client-bases within workplaces.

  • Support entrepreneurial career paths within the profession and encourage transdisciplinary collaboration beyond the design professions to break into new markets and push innovation.
  • Seek funding sources for interdisciplinary, global reach and alternative project types.
  • Evaluate existing project delivery methods and test new platforms.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

Stay tuned next week for a post on Action 2: “We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks.”

We are the next generation and are ready to act.

The Olmsted Scholars who contributed to this effort are: Leann Andrews (2013 National Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Bailey (2014 Olmsted Scholar), Zach Barker (2013 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Marin Braco (2012 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Nina Chase (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Kim Dietzel (2015 Olmsted Scholar), Karl Krause (2008 Olmsted Scholar), Tim Mollette-Parks (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Sargeant (2016 Olmsted Scholar), and Nate Wooten (2016 Olmsted Scholar).

LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program recognizes and supports landscape architecture students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Race, Remembrance, and Landscape in Greenwood Cemetery

By Azzurra Cox, 2016 National Olmsted Scholar

greenwood01This past September I attended Antigone in Ferguson, a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ Antigone staged at Normandy High School in St. Louis County. Produced by the NYC-based theater group Outside the Wire, it brought the classical story of justice, loyalty, and redemption to a community that has been grappling with such questions — most publically in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in June 2014. Michael Brown was shot by a police officer a mere eight days after graduating from Normandy High School. His body, not unlike Antigone’s brother’s, was left in the harsh sunlight for hours. As audience members reacted to the stunning production with tears, praise, and probing questions, I couldn’t help but wonder in which auditorium seat Brown had last sat, how he had clapped, what had moved him. For an afternoon, that space became a living memorial.

What brought me to St. Louis was another site of memory just one mile away from that auditorium, in Hillsdale. Established in 1874 as the first non-denominational African-American commercial cemetery in the St. Louis area, Greenwood Cemetery is a unique cultural landscape and at the core of my research as a National Olmsted Scholar. Its 32 rolling acres house 6,000 marked graves, and up to 50,000 burials, including Dred Scott’s widow, Harriet Robinson Scott, and other notable figures. As one of the region’s late-period rural cemeteries, Greenwood speaks to both the typological and civic traditions of the picturesque cemetery; most poignantly, it embodies the right to be remembered for those who had to fight for that right. Although I haven’t yet been able to trace Greenwood’s original designer, the plan appears to reference Paris’ iconic Père Lachaise Cemetery, which inspired the notion of the American rural cemetery as a democratic space. Indeed, the people buried at Greenwood represent the full socioeconomic spectrum of the African American community, from artists to veterans, from civil rights leaders to school teachers. Greenwood historian and advocate Etta Daniels is fond of saying that the site embodies an entire historical narrative of black St. Louis.

That history is too often unspoken. A vibrant community space through the Jim Crow era, upon de juro desegregation Greenwood saw a sharp decline in use, after which divestment and rising poverty engulfed both it and the surrounding community. Today, Greenwood appears as an expanse of green surrounded by rows of modest homes, punctuated by vacant lots and boarded-up windows. Hillsdale is 96% African-American, a demographic typical of some of St. Louis’ northern suburbs. Its estimated median household income is less than half of Missouri’s median income. Ferguson, the birth of #BlackLivesMatter, lies a mere five miles away. It’s within this context that 32 acres of a vital place of African-American memory have been practically erased from the map.

Today a non-profit citizens’ group, the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, is advocating for its clearing and restoration. My goal is to continue working with Association President Raphael Morris, Etta Daniels, Shelley Staples Morris, and other members to reimagine Greenwood as a vibrant, layered public space — one that blurs the distinction between cemetery, park, and museum. Last summer, I laid the groundwork for this long-term project by investigating and documenting the site’s cultural and ecological performance, learning from and getting to know Association members and other stakeholders to understand their desires for the site, and identifying ways in which I can lend my support and expertise. As someone who, unlike many Association members, does not have direct emotional and generational ties to the site, I see my role as an advocate above all.

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No amount of prior research could have prepared me for the spatial power of Greenwood. In the heavy St. Louis summer, the site was bursting with life. The canopy in the northern elevated portion (what I call the Forest) enveloped rudimentary paths in birdsong. Along the central axis (the Field), many hours of volunteer work had carved clear sightlines across a shallow valley. Many of the site’s urban borders (the Edge) were characterized by fencing or neglect as residents turn their back on the site. And almost everywhere, gravestones appeared in various states of reveal. Throughout this range of spatial typologies, decades of neglect enabled unusually high species diversity.

greenwood03bThe site — and the possibility of its revival — prompts questions about the narrative and political agency of place and the role of design on sensitive, sacred ground. A site of cultural memory has essentially been erased by its very material. But where we see biomass, we too often forget design. The state of Greenwood today is just as much a product of carefully designed systems — in this case, racial segregation and discrimination, as well as local and national political decisions — as were Olmsted’s parks. Yet while the tangled mass of vegetation does naturalize the structural violence embodied in the site, it is also a living testimony. Greenwood’s many histories are both covered and spoken by the landscape. So, how can design introduce new social life into a space with so much life and history already rooted into its soil? How might the site be reinterpreted as a hybrid public landscape? To what extent can landscape, as both medium and tradition, help render visible Greenwood’s many legacies? 

These are the questions I continue to ask in this work. The next step is to work with Raphael and the Association to design a multi-phase implementation plan for the future of Greenwood. Ultimately, we want to leverage the site’s layered cultural, ecological, and historical legacies into a resource for the immediate community, the metropolitan region, and beyond. The opportunity for this project to spark that feedback cycle — whether by engaging Normandy High School, addressing conditions of vacancy in Hillsdale, or creating employment opportunities — is both exciting and very daunting. Fundraising is also core to the project, with the goal of establishing a perpetual care fund to secure Greenwood’s future. And this may well be a pivotal moment, as awareness of the cultural and political significance of neglected African-American cemeteries is growing near and far. The future of Greenwood Cemetery is about a landscape, but it’s fundamentally a matter of cultural heritage and racial justice — what is past and what is yet to come.

Azzurra Cox received a Master of Landscape Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is currently working at GGN in Seattle. Azzurra first learned of Greenwood Cemetery thanks to Seth Freed Wessler, who reported and wrote a powerful piece on the site in the aftermath of Ferguson.