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Changing Paradigms for Riverfront Development in India

mittal-photo-530wDhara Mittal, a Masters of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Michigan, is the 2017 recipient of the $20,000 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA. Just as Joe valued  international exchange and giving back in service to one’s community and profession, Dhara is linking landscape architecture with advocacy to create a more sustainable future in her native Vadorada, India. By conducting an extensive analysis of a proposed development plan for the Vishwamitri River and introducing potential design alternatives, she’s gearing up to push for big system change.

The Vishwamitri River forms an ecological ‘spine’ in the city of Vadodara, near the concretized and dense urban neighborhood where Dhara grew up. The river is a unique piece of the city’s geological fabric. It functions as a haven for an expanding crocodile population and it has historically served as a resource for the community’s spiritual edification and daily needs. But it is also a site that has suffered gradual neglect and is frequently used as a receptacle for local waste and pollution. “If you go to the city now,” Dhara explains, “you can see that people have completely neglected the river and don’t even venture along it.”

vadodara-vishwamitri-riverAerial view of Vadodara and the Vishwamitri River (Source: Vadodara Municipal Corporation/Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project)

To address these issues, a new master plan for the area has been created through the government-led Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP). Though it acknowledges the delicate ecosystem that the river sustains, the plan has received mounting resistance from both residents and stakeholders. Much of that opposition focuses on the engineered approach that fails to adequately address the ecological aspects of the river system. The opposition highlights the absence of critical social and environmental impact assessments and expresses concerns about displacement.

This was the backdrop in 2013 when Dhara started working at the Vadodara-based ecological firm, saa synergies. Staff members collaborated with a group of stakeholders and developed initiatives to create awareness about this missing aspect of the VRDP plan, invested in local mobilization efforts to reach students and small stakeholder groups, and incorporated efforts to petition the government to include better alternatives for the development. Through this immersive work experience, Dhara realized how relevant landscape architecture could be in reimagining more holistic riverfront development strategies. She decided to continue to advance this advocacy work in her masters program by engaging fellow students to take a closer look at the VRDP proposal. “I thought it would be interesting for other people to see how river systems are dealt with in a developing country like India.”

Through a collaborative effort at the University of Michigan, which included students from conservation ecology, environmental policy and planning, public health, and landscape architecture, Dhara and her team produced Vishwamitri: A River and Its Reign. The in-depth report outlines their rigorous analysis of the current VRDP proposal, including their investigation of the river’s ecological boundaries and watersheds, and then suggests more sustainable development alternatives for it.

vishwamitri-riverResidents, domestic buffalos, stray dogs, and trash share space on the riverbank. (Source: Vishwamitri - A River and Its Reign)

This fall, Dhara will make her way back to Vadodara to pursue the project further in collaboration with her team’s client stakeholder group. She will meet with policymakers and government officials, including the mayor, to share the report’s findings and amplify stakeholders’ and residents’ concerns.

Dhara sees this as groundwork to spark a paradigm shift in how India deals with its river systems. “In a city very close to us, [another] riverfront development has become so popular, that it’s almost the prototype that they’re using for all major riverfront development projects in the future,” she states, comparing the government-proposed riverfront design for the Vishwamitri River to the Sabarmati Riverfront Development in Ahmedabad. However, “this way of dealing with rivers is outdated. It’s important for people to see that there are other ways that can be equally generative in terms of economic gain, but that can also be ecologically stable.”

The alternatives that Dhara and her team propose for the Vishwamitri River focus on managing the water quantity and quality, a primary concern. They also consider changing land use relationships, such as a nearby village where the landscape has been deforested to serve agricultural purposes. “If you see [the VRDP] proposal, they deal with the river only within the city of Vadodara and that is a very piecemeal approach,” she explains. “What we’re trying to say is that the river has its own watershed boundaries. When you deal with river systems in an ecological sense, it’s important to look at the ecological boundaries instead of only the administrative ones.”

Along with other stakeholders and designers, Dhara sees incredible potential for the VRDP project to set a precedent. She hopes that it can preserve the river’s unique ecosystem, and that the ethical development of human environments is factored into the outcome. As similar development projects continue to emerge, Dhara is intent on advocating for a more holistic approach in the face of rapid urban development around rivers across India. “If you see large-scale design-related projects — especially river-systems related projects — there’s not much insight into the functioning of systems that is reflected in the design. I want to target and change that.”

Thank You to Our 2017 Scholarship Jurors


Each year, the Landscape Architecture Foundation offers over $60,000 in awards through up to 11 different scholarships and fellowships, established by generous sponsors. The winners are chosen through a competitive application and selection process. LAF convenes juries to decide the winners of four awards, and we would like to extend a sincere thank you to this year’s jurors. We appreciate the energy you put in to the process and your commitment to supporting the next generation of designers!

LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA Jury

Cheryl Barton, FASLA, FAAR, LEED AP
Founding Principal
Office of Cheryl Barton

Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, LEED AP
ParkerRodriguez, Inc

Doug Hoerr, FASLA
CEO and Senior Principal
Hoerr Schaudt

Mia Lehrer, FASLA
Mia Lehrer + Associates

Signe Nielsen, FASLA

Gregg Sutton, PLA, ASLA

Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden and Design Jury

Randall W. Mardis, ASLA, PLA
Landscape Technologies

Kevin Campion, ASLA
Campion Hruby

Julieta Sherk, PLA, ASLA
Associate Professor, College of Design
North Carolina State University

Landscape Forms Design for People Scholarship Jury

Scott Rykiel, FASLA, LEED AP
Executive Vice President
Mahan Rykiel Associates

Terry Guen, FASLA
Principal and Founder
Terry Guen Design Associates

Bill Burton, FASLA
Burton Studio

Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship Jury

Kate Tooke, PLA, ASLA
Senior Associate

Julie Johnson, PLA, ASLA
Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Washington

Sara Schuh, PLA, ASLA
SALT Design Studio

Scholarship Winner Looks to Advance Ecological Design in Her Native Iran


As the first recipient of the $20,000 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA, Sanaz Chamanara embodies much of what Joe stood for during his 46-year career as a landscape architect, artist, philanthropist, mentor, and teacher. Sanaz is a young designer with a powerful combination of talent, work ethic, experience, and sense of social purpose that provides her with a strong platform to significantly advance the design of urban landscapes in her native Iran and potentially throughout the Middle East.

Sanaz is pursuing a Masters of Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She holds a degree in Architecture from the Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) and a Landscape Architecture graduate degree from Shahid Beheshti University (BSU), where she ranked first in her graduating class.

Sanaz describes the suburb where she grew up in Shiraz, Iran as a “grey neighborhood” — an image that is in stark contrast to a place that was historically known as the “Garden City.” Shiraz is the capitol of Fars Province and one of the oldest cities in southern Iran. Over a century ago, Shiraz was covered by lush gardens, including hundreds of hectares of orchards in Ghasr-Dasht, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. However, many of these gardens and productive landscapes have been destroyed by decades of rapid population growth and private development spurred by increasing land values. The result has been overall environmental decline.

In “Revitalizing Urban Gardens, The Transfer of Development Rights in Shiraz, Iran,” Sanaz and her co-author Amirreza Kazemeini, a graduate student at Qeshm International University, propose that the City make shifts in policy to protect and support productive landscapes and their water resources and to identify more suitable areas for future development and urban growth.

Through this graduate research and her professional experiences in both Shiraz and Tehran, Sanaz came to realize that landscape architecture is still a fairly new field in her country and that its importance is often overlooked. She observed an absence of experts in Iran with an understanding of ecological processes and solutions to combat issues of pollution, drought, and flooding that are plaguing many Iranian cities today. Sanaz has been actively working to fill this void throughout her academic endeavors in landscape architecture.

“I didn’t learn about ecological concepts in my graduate studies in Iran, and that’s why I am here.”

Sanaz just completed her first year at the University of Michigan and is currently researching the application and design of green infrastructure towards social cohesion in Detroit. She sees many parallels that will help inform her work in the future. “The problems that currently plague Detroit I can definitely see happening to cities like Tehran in the future,” she observes, unless more sustainable development solutions and policies are put into place.

Sanaz is also passionate about gender-equal design in the landscape. As an Iranian born women, she has a distinct and essential design perspective. In a country that is dominated by the male point of view and where women are often marginalized — particularly in the poorer communities, Sanaz espouses the importance of landscape architecture in the design of spaces that can help provide both recreational and economic opportunities to empower women and promote more gender-equal communities.

Sanaz intends to continue her studies in the U.S. and pursue a PhD. Looking further into the future, she plans to move back to Shiraz, where she hopes to serve on the Board of Directors for the City to affect policies and lead the city toward a more sustainable future. And one day, she hopes to open a school in landscape architecture in her hometown, educating students on the principals of ecological systems and the critical role of the landscape architect in Iran. 

We commend Sanaz for her accomplishments and commitment to the field of landscape architecture, and we look forward to following her as she continues her academic and professional pursuits!

Thank You to Our 2016 Scholarship Jurors

Throughout its 50-year history, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has awarded scholarships to deserving students. This year, the total amount available increased significantly with the establishment of two new awards — the $20,000 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA and the $5,000 ASLA-NY Designing in the Public Realm Scholarship. The now 11 different scholarships and fellowships were established and made possible by their respective sponsors.

Scholarship winners are chosen through a competitive application and selection process. LAF convenes juries to decide the winners of four awards. We would like to extend a special thank you to this year’s jurors — we appreciate your commitment to supporting the next generation of designers!

LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA Jury

Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, LEED AP
ParkerRodriguez, Inc

Lucinda R. Sanders, FASLA
CEO and Partner

Martha Schwartz, DSc, FASLA, Hon FRIBA, Hon RDI, RAAR
Martha Schwartz Partners

Gregg Sutton, PLA, ASLA

Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden and Design Jury

Virginia L. Russell, FASLA, PLA, LEED AP, GRP
Associate Professor of Architecture, Horticulture Program Director
University of Cincinnati

Randall W. Mardis, ASLA, PLA
President / Landscape Architect
Landscape Technologies
Susan Olmsted, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP
Associate Principal

Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship Jury

Lisa Horne, PLA, LEED AP, ASLA
Project Manager
RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture

Kate Tooke, ASLA
Sasaki Associates

David Watts, PLA
Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Landscape Forms Design for People Scholarship Jury

James Burnett, FASLA
The Office of James Burnett

Dan Herman, ASLA
Rabben/Herman design office

Scott Rykiel, FASLA, LEED AP
Executive Vice President
Mahan Rykiel Associates

Extraordinary Gift Launches New $20,000 Honor Scholarship

A generous gift from Jeanne Dawson-Lalli has created the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA. This new $20,000 scholarship will be awarded annually to a student pursuing a Master’s degree in landscape architecture at an accredited university in the U.S. or Canada.

The scholarship was established in memory of Joseph J. Lalli, FASLA (1943-2014) and his 46-year career as a landscape architect, artist, philanthropist, mentor, and teacher. Joe was the chairman and former president of the firm EDSA and had more than 500 projects to his credit in 40 countries. He was a persuasive leader, well-known and admired for his modesty and generosity. Joe experienced great value in his Master’s degree and wanted to help make the opportunity for graduate education accessible to others.

jeanne-and-joeJeanne Dawson-Lalli and Joe Lalli (both huge Miami Heat fans)

“We are honored to be able to offer such a significant award that serves as part of Joe’s wonderful legacy.” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA. “Joe exemplified ‘giving back’ and did much to support students and foster the development of the next generation of leaders in landscape architecture. This scholarship will help and inspire students for years to come.”

Candidates for the new scholarship must show commitment to some of the areas that Joe Lalli dedicated himself to, including drawing, artistic pursuits, the importance of travel, and service to one’s community and profession.

“Joe credited his graduate studies for making him the outstanding designer he was. He also learned so much from drawing, painting and traveling extensively — it influenced his designs and his way of thinking,” said Jeanne Dawson-Lalli, who established the scholarship in memory of her late husband. “Similarly, I hope that this award allows promising students to continue their studies and pursue their passions to feed their creativity.”

The LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA is the largest scholarship offered by the Landscape Architecture Foundation. LAF is now able to offer a total of over $60,000 annually in scholarships and fellowships for students through ten different awards.

Learn more about LAF scholarships at: