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Olmsted Scholar Feature: On Participating in Community

by Christopher Jennette, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

jennette-a-c06As a graduate student for three years, I spent many hours trying to better understand what we, as landscape architects, mean when we say the word “community”.  At once geographical, cultural, and somewhat intangible, the concept of community is ever-present in our design thinking, process, and language. Landscape architects spend a good deal of time thinking about communities: how to create and enhance them, to engage with and inspire them, and to help them find and express their identities. This past year, after making my first big move since graduate school, I realized something about communities that I had always known, but that somehow escaped me over the course of so many nights waxing academic — we live in them.  

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts this past spring, I packed my life into a few boxes and moved south to Louisville, Kentucky. Not knowing much about Louisville, I was a bit apprehensive about the transition from the snowy, familiar sights of Northampton, Massachusetts to a city best known for horse racing, baseball bats, and bourbon. I did some research, and learned that Louisville is a city of roughly 1.26 million residents (metro). It has an extensive (and expanding) parks system including a number of Olmsted-designed gems right near downtown, many great restaurants showcasing locally grown ingredients, and a thriving arts community. Upon arriving, I was excited to explore my new home, and to make discoveries on-foot instead of on-internet.

jennette-bThough some of what I discovered here was expected: that thing called southern hospitality I’d heard so much about but never thought was real, barbeque the likes of which New England has never seen, and more days above 90 degrees than I care to relive — some of my discoveries came as a truly pleasant surprise. Neighbors raising chickens in my neighborhood just east of downtown, crowded farmer’s markets replete with beautiful, fresh produce, meat and poultry throughout the week, a community garden just around the corner, and bright orange 95-gallon recycling bins in front of nearly every business on my walk to the bus stop, to name a few.

Last month, I joined Louisville’s 9th District “Green Triangle Coordination Team” - a diverse group of local citizens, professionals, and business owners that will serve as a jennette-cresource to identify, enhance, develop, support, and connect green initiatives throughout the district in which I live. One aspect of Landscape Architecture that has always excited me is the potential for our profession to be a key linkage — to coordinate and connect many different groups of people and ideas. I’m excited about the prospect of wholeheartedly engaging with my community, and working to reveal, connect, and celebrate the great things that are happening here.  

Becoming part of the coordination team got me thinking about the role that we play as professionals in our local communities, and it also brought up a couple of questions that I thought blog readers might like to ponder along with me. Though we, as landscape architects, have spent a great deal of time refining our skills so as to better support our instincts as designers and thinkers, are we putting those skills to use in our own communities? Do we, as trained, talented creative people, have a responsibility not just to our profession, but to our neighbors? In the coming year, I encourage you all to seek out the wealth of opportunity right outside your door, and to put your hard earned skills to work for the good of the community in which you live.

Chris Jennette earned his Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Massachusetts in May.  He is currently living and working in Louisville, Kentucky as a landscape and graphic designer.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Dynamic Design Communication's Role in Community Participation

by Travis Flohr, 2010 Olmsted Scholar

flohr-pic-1Circleville Farm (State College, PA) juxtaposed by sprawl.

Decreased water, soil and air quality; changes in microclimate; and the loss of prime agricultural farmland are all issues associated with sprawl. Sprawl disrupts social networks and communities, and negatively changes environmental and ecologic patterns. What legacy are these development patterns leaving on the landscape? These complex but interrelated issues require interdisciplinary and collaborative problem solving. While landscape architects identified this important change in planning 30+ years ago and have incorporated these approaches into community design, the planning process has changed little. Plans and designs are still commonly communicated with static images and jargon filled, text-based policies leaving many community members unable to comprehend the broader impacts of their decisions and limited opportunity to provide feedback.

People are willing to choose alternatives to sprawl if given the opportunity and provided with adequate information in a way that is understandable. To understand and facilitate changes in the design and planning of these developments, new tools can be implemented that better communicate issues and present viable alternatives.

Quality writing is the foundation of written, verbal, and visual communication (including but not limited to design graphics, animations, movies, etc), but it is only one tool at our disposal. We are in the midst of a communication shift. We can now use technology to instantly communicate with millions of people. Is this shift for the better, and how might we use it successfully within the profession?

flohr-pic-2Master thesis interactive, three-dimensional test website.

Traditional methods can be augmented by new technology, research, and learning agendas that will help better communicate the connections and relationships between the complex issues involved in community planning and design. GeoDesign is one such agenda that pushes for the early use of analysis in the design process to vette early design concepts for suitability. Early GeoDesign tools were meant for the designer.  As the technology evolves, these tools are starting to be integrated into participatory processes; however, these tools are still in their infancy. By tapping into internet technologies, social media, and GIS, we have the potential to:

  • Capture a wider audience
  • Provide a greater depth of information on designs and planning decisions earlier in the process
  • Use interactive, multimedia enriched content to better facilitate communication of complex ideas
  • Integrate and capture community held ideals and values
  • Influence public decision making that emphasizes environmental, social, and geographic features that minimize undesirable impacts

The development of these tools will be critical in expanding community engagement in an increasingly complex and learning centered society.

Travis Flohr is currently involved in numerous research projects while finishing his Master’s Thesis in Landscape Architecture at The Pennsylvania State University.  This fall he plans on pursuing a PhD at the University of Colorado. Starting February 1, 2011 if you wish you may participate in this ongoing study by visiting He can be contacted at

Mission Santa Barbara Project Complete for LAF Fellowship Winner

In 2008 Michael Sanchez, a Masters of Landscape Architecture student at the University of Oregon, won the GCA/Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden History and Design. His proposed project — to explore, document and present one of California’s most treasured outdoor spaces, the gardens of Mission Santa Barbara — ultimately became his master’s thesis. The $4,000 fellowship award helped Michael fund travel and supplies for a two-week research trip to the site and its archive.

mission01Michael’s research examines the integration of landscape representation, through a series of ‘over-drawings’,  as a method of exploring and promoting the historic preservation of landscapes. Through mapping, photography, painting and intaglio printmaking, he aims to portray landscapes in a way that engenders future exploration and preservation of these valuable cultural resources.

mission02His recently-completed thesis work, Mission Santa Barbara | Visually Explored, showcases Michael’s rich and diverse artistic skills while exploring aspects of the site’s history, context, and scale. According to his synopsis:

“This project is not a typical historical analysis of the landscape of Mission Santa Barbara, nor a detailed historic rendering of the beautiful architecture and mission06surrounding landscape. Nor is this merely a literary compilation. This project is a unique perspective between all of the professionals that tell stories of the missions — architects, landscape architects, planners, artists, historians, archeologists, anthropologists, Padres, tourists, etc. — and is woven into a product rich in illustrations and backed by interesting facts and sources.”

mission05With his MLA now in hand, Michael’s immediate priorities are sleep, recovery and spending time with his family. Ultimately he would like to teach, and plans to do some adjunct teaching at the University of Oregon next year. He currently works as a landscape architect for a small design firm in Eugene.

Download Mission Santa Barbara | Visually Explored manuscript (pdf, 12.8MB)
Download Mission Santa Barbara graphics (pdf, 5.8MB)

Webinar Provides Overview of LPS Resources

Heard about the Landscape Performance Series, but still not clear on how it can be useful to you?

We’ve developed a 45-min webinar to provide an overview and demonstration of the various resources and tools in the series. The webinar lasts 45-60 minutes and can be presented to groups of 10-100 attendees.

So far we’ve reached hundreds through webinars with offices of JJR, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, AECOM, Design Workshop, and HOK, and the feedback has been extremely positive.

lps-webinarsPresenting to Chicago, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Phoenix via JJR Live!

“This is a fantastic tool! I can think of a number of ways this would’ve been helpful on past proiects…and with meetings I have in the next few weeks.”

“I can see many opportunities to use the Factoid Library in particular.”

“I’m inspired to try to measure the impact of my projects.”

“Great resource! We really need to get this information out beyond the landscape architecture profession.”

Contact us at to schedule a webinar for your firm, department, organization, or group. Or if you’d prefer an in-person presentation/demonstration, we may be coming to your region in 2011. Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming trips and events.

Call for LPS Case Study Briefs

The Landscape Performance Series (LPS) Case Study Briefs form a database of built projects with quantified landscape benefits, searchable by benefit, project type, and/or location. Each case study includes a variety of environmental, economic, and/or social benefits along with a methodology document, before/after images, a list of sustainable features, cost comparison and lessons learned. The vision is to grow this resource to include hundreds of projects, representing a wide range of scales, geographic locations and landscape typologies.

lpscasestudycallLPS case studies are submitted by designers or other project stakeholders using an online form, and undergo a review and editing process before being published. LAF is currently seeking submissions to add to our growing database of exemplary built projects. The deadline to submit for the next round of review and publication is Tuesday, February 15. 

Participation increases awareness about your sustainable project(s), demonstrates thought leadership, and shares information so that others — both inside and outside the profession — can learn from your good work. By contributing to the LPS, you will be helping to enrich our collective knowledge about landscape performance, generate demand for the profession, and assist sustainability implementers around the world in understanding and communicating the value of sustainable landscape solutions.

We invite you to submit a Case Study Brief today!