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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.

International Conference on Landscape Architecture Education

cela-sign2LAF's Barbara Deutsch, Heather Whitlow, and student volunteer extraordinaire Shuyi Yan

Two LAF staff members spent an incredible four days at the CELA/CLAEC International Conference on Landscape Architecture Education May 26-29 in Beijing. With the theme of “Bridging,” this conference is the first time that annual meetings of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) and the Education Committee of the Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture (CLAEC) have been held jointly.

During the opening ceremony, LAF CEO Barbara Deutsch presented the New Landscape Declaration and participated in a  panel discussion with the conference co-hosts:

  • Katya Crawford, President, Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), Professor, University of New Mexico
  • Jie Hu, Vice President, Tsinghua Urban Planning and Design Institute
  • Xiong Li, Professor and Vice-president, Beijing Forestry University, Secretary General of Chinese Steering Committee of Master of Landscape Architecture Education, Secretary General of Education Committee of Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture
  • Rui Yang, Professor and Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, Chair of Chinese Steering Committee of Landscape Architecture Education
  • Kongjian Yu, Professor, Chair of Academic Committee of College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Peking University

The panel was co-moderated by Xiaodi Zheng, Secretary General of 2017 CELA/CLAEC and Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture at Tsinghua University.

cela-panelPanelists discuss the New Landscape Declaration during the opening plenary.

LAF also hosted a pre-conference workshop on landscape performance and presented The New Landscape Declaration documentary during the conference Film Track. The Landscape Performance Track included 24 concurrent sessions, with several discussing research conducted through LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program or grant partnerships.

All-in-all, the conference was a great opportunity for knowledge-sharing, a marvelous cultural exchange, and a wonderful chance to reconnect with faculty and students from the U.S., China, and elsewhere. Many thanks to CELA, conference organizer Xiaodi Zheng, our Chinese university hosts, and the many student volunteers who took care of us, especially Shuyi Yan of Beijing Forestry University.

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.”

Engaging Students with the New Landscape Declaration

LAF’s New Landscape Declaration is a new vision and 21st century call to action for landscape architecture to make its vital contribution in solving the defining issues of our time. The Declaration, along with the Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future that gave rise to it, serve to guide, challenge, and inspire — aims befitting to an academic environment.

To help university faculty and landscape architecture departments engage with this initiative, we’ve complied a list of resources and ideas to incorporate the themes into their programs and coursework:

  • Post the New Landscape Declaration in a prominent place in your department or website. (PDF versions in English and 17 other languages are available.)
  • Screen the 20-minute Summit documentary for a class or event and facilitate a post-film discussion. (The film is closed-captioned to support less-than-ideal sound systems and non-native English speakers.)
  • Assign students to explore the Summit declarations (in videos or essay form) and report out on their favorites or write their own declaration.
  • Use the New Landscape Declaration as a tool to communicate the value and values of the landscape architecture to allied disciplines and administrators in your university.
  • Respond to the Declaration by sharing your thoughts and ideas for action with LAF, within your department, or as an editorial. We encourage and look forward to continued discourse on the future of the profession and what needs to be done.

M. Elen Deming (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), Richard Hawks (SUNY-ESF), and Ken Yocum (University of Washington) have graciously shared the materials and assignments that they developed to include the Declaration in courses taught during the 2016-2017 academic year. We hope that these sample teaching materials spur other educators to take advantage of this powerful set of resources to provoke and inspire the next generation of landscape architects.

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5/24 UPDATE: You can see the video product of Professor Elen Deming’s “Declaration of Values in Landscape Architecture” project here.

LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership: First Residency Complete!

laf-fellow-cohort-1-photo-530wLeft to right: Alpa Nawre, Claire Latané, Brice Maryman, Nicole Plunkett, Harriett Jameson, Scott Douglas

Last week, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) welcomed its first cohort of the new LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. The four LAF Fellows, two participating Olmsted Scholars, and fellowship facilitators gathered in Washington, D.C. for an intense 3-day residency to kick off the fellowship year.

Before getting to work, the participants attended a special dinner with the LAF Board of Directors, local Board Emeriti, and representatives from the National Park Service, which was recognized with the 2017 LAF Founders’ Award. After an inspiring evening, the cohort gathered at Impact Hub DC, a non-profit co-working space for “entrepreneurs, creatives, and professionals taking action to drive positive social, economic, and environmental change,” and the fellowship’s home-base for three days.

Lucinda Sanders, CEO and Partner at OLIN, and Laura Solano, Principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, serve as facilitators for all three fellowship residencies. At this first one, they explored the different aspects of transformational leadership with the cohort. They also underscored the importance of asking for help and of mentorship in all directions, as each cohort member is there to support the others throughout the fellowship year.

Residency I of the fellowship is designed to deepen the commitment of each cohort member and to help remove obstacles from her or his path. Repeated presentations and critiques were one of the primary exercises used to achieve this. The LAF Fellows and participating Olmsted Scholars presented their project proposals multiple times and in multiple formats over the course of this first residency, with each speaking opportunity further reinforced with guidance and feedback from the cohort team, facilitators, and invited guests.

laf-fellow-small-group-1-530wLeft to right: Alpa Nawre, Harriett Jameson, Laura Solano, Brice Maryman

Day 1 was dedicated to small group, workshop-style discursive presentations and some project work time to advance or refine their presentations for Day 2, when the entire cohort reconvened for their formal presentations and critique with invited guests Brad McKee, Editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine and Daniel Pittman, Design Director at A/D/O, a design/creative incubator in Brooklyn, New York. Their insights and perspective were invaluable to the project team. The cohort also received feedback from the LAF Board of Directors following a round of short, PechaKucha-style presentations.

Residency I wrapped up on the morning of Day 3 when the fellowship cohort and facilitators came together to reflect on the past two days and discuss the work and challenges they plan to confront over the course of this year.

To maintain momentum throughout the fellowship year, the cohort will check in monthly via conference call to report out on progress. In six months, the cohort will reconvene in Washington, D.C. in early November for Residency II. We look forward to sharing their progress in the months ahead!