Green and Future-focused: Designing for a more livable world

The weekend of April 9, 2022, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) hosted its “Grounding the Green New Deal” summit in Washington, DC. At the event, design practitioners had ample opportunity to learn how their practice and the profession as a whole can make a difference in advancing the policy issues of our time – climate change in particular.

“Our aim was to catalyze the conversation and accelerate the profession’s ability to effect change,” says Natalia Beard, LAF Board member and SWA principal, about the Summit and the Green New Deal Superstudio, a related initiative whose highlights were featured in a concurrent, curated exhibition at the National Building Museum.

Both events underscore the leadership potential of landscape architects in offering practical solutions in service of the broader environmental agenda and the Green New Deal’s interrelated goals of jobs, justice, and decarbonization.

To that end, the Superstudio exhibition will feature 55 of 670 design submittals by practitioners nationwide who responded to a national call for visionary ideas that address the Green New Deal’s aspirations in the built environment.

SWA was involved with three of the exhibition’s featured projects, see below.

Two projects, one in Oakland and one in California’s Sierra foothills, were developed by SWA as part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to research. The two projects identify critical landscape-based strategies for realizing Green New Deal’s goals within the contexts of respectively urban and rural communities. The third featured project, Renew Calumet, involved two SWA staff as part of a larger team of emerging professionals from across the country. Renew Calumet examines the landscapes in which resource extraction has taken place, and informed an SWA fellowship on the future of oil systems.

SWA’s commitment to research and innovation drives our work, providing critical insights into emerging issues related to climate change, social and environmental resilience, and humans’ relationships with their open spaces. Project work and participation in events like “Grounding the New Deal” and the Superstudio initiative foster interdisciplinary idea-sharing and help to inform our project work as we strive to create a more livable world. To learn more, visit our website’s Ideas section.

More about the

Examining Landscapes of Extraction

This project envisions a sustainable future for a “sacrifice zone” near Chicago, where oil extraction has been undertaken.  Undertaken by a group of past LAF Olmstead Scholars,  the project’s goal was to assist local stakeholders with their research, which highlights community activism in the region.

Read more here:

Investigations of the Calumet region inspired further research by Olivia Pinner and Adam Scott, both SWA designers who were part of the project team.  Their investigation into “landscapes of extraction” −specifically, the future of oil systems – is illustrated in the slide show and was supported through SWA’s Futuretense fellowship.  The fellowship investigated well, pipeline, and refinery infrastructure in three national economic centers.  Through mapping, photography, and ephemeral (temporary) interventions in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston, the project helps practitioners prepare for the landscape implications of necessary decarbonization.

Groundwork in Oakland.

This project focuses on how the regeneration of soil in underutilized urban lands can establish a powerful advocacy framework that supports social infrastructure and local urban ecologies.

The project is centered on the creation of a set of toolkits that reveal local organizations’ existing land uses and their effectiveness in providing ecological and social interventions benefit healthy communities. By joining forces with existing initiatives, this effort offers a socially sensible effort to redefine land use in Oakland, and establishes a model for community-driven, small-scale climate interventions for the Green New Deal.

Read more here:  Unearthed: Agency for Soils in West Oakland

Warding off Wildfire in Paradise

This project identifies strategies for mitigating wildfire risk within and around the town of Paradise, California, which was destroyed by fire in 2018.

Drawing heavily on both landscape ecology and on indigenous fire management principles, , the project explores wildfire buffering schemes that are designed to leverage the overlapping benefits of prescribed burns, wildland fuel reduction, high-value agricultural production, renewable energy, and expanded recreational programming.  The inquiry, which builds on recent studies by the Conservation Biology Institute and the Nature Conservancy, continues SWA’s research and design engagement with wildfire-prone landscapes in California.

Read more here: Edge of Paradise:  Landscape Strategies for Living with Fire.