The landscape can never be more beautiful than it is just. We vow to make the world both beautiful and just simultaneously.
—Randy Hester in his summit declaration
Last June over 700 attendees gathered in Philadelphia for The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future. Organized by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), the event marked the 50th anniversary of the penning of the organization’s “Declaration of Concern,” a document reflecting on the state of environmentalism and the practice of landscape architecture. Over two days, leaders in landscape architecture and allied disciplines gave their “declarations” on critical issues, as part of a collaborative process to create a new “Declaration of Concern” for the field. Participatory panels followed, with audience surveys, Q&A sessions, and feedback options to help drive conversations.
The discussions and declarations often focused on climate change, increased poverty, decreased humanism, and how design can lead in confronting these issues. Data emphasized the lack of women and minorities in the discipline and injustices in communities regarding access to design and open space, and environmental concerns were also voiced. As speaker Blaine Merker put it, we have a supply problem—not enough good and green urbanism to go around, and those who can’t afford it are pushed to the kind of resource-intensive development we need to rapidly abandon.
The biggest question asked was, “What can we truly do as landscape architects?” Many feared their expertise wasn’t broad enough or their voices loud enough to foster real, immediate change. Ultimately, the consensus was that we can make a lasting, positive impact.
Landscape architects, as stewards of both the land and the people who inhabit it, are trained in fostering dialogue. Our talents in facilitating productive discussions are ever more valuable as we look to share ideas and create places with different stakeholders. When every profession, neighbor, and country looks beyond borders in favor of the collective, our efforts as designers can promise real outcomes.
The “Declaration of Concern” writing process is still underway. Comments can and should be sent to the LAF (visit www.lafoundation.org). A declaration for the next 50 years and beyond will be presented and available to sign at this year’s ASLA conference in New Orleans in October.
Update 25 October 2016: The Landscape Architecture Foundation recently released The New Landscape Declaration.