The LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership

Alpa Nawre, ASLA, presents to community members in India / image: Tsz Wai Wong

In a time of ceaselessly shifting cycles (of news, weather, economic ups-and-downs, and never-ending debates on seemingly every topic imaginable), taking time out to focus on building transformative leadership and advancing ethically-motivated ideas is a refreshing break from the norm. The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership aims to nurture and inspire landscape architecture professionals to pursue “ideas that have the potential to bring about impactful change to the environment and humanity and increase the visibility and leadership role of landscape architecture.”

On May 17 in Washington, DC, LAF hosted an event for their inaugural class of fellows. The Symposium was the culmination of the year-long fellowship, which supports senior-level, mid-career, and emerging professionals as they develop and test new ideas that will drive innovation and transformation. Each fellow gave a short presentation on their work, the diversity of which demonstrates the breadth of the profession and the transformative potential of landscape architecture’s expansive scope.

Brice Maryman, ASLA, began with a critical look at the misalignment between myths about homelessness and what data shows. Contrary to frequently-repeated observations on the prevalence of substance abuse, mental illness, and other apparently common causes, the one underlying trauma found in nearly all situations is in fact a lack of affordable housing. Citing Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Maryman went on to the impact of zoning regulations on today’s widening wealth gap and the marked concentration of larger homeless populations in a handful of coastal urban areas.

Brice Maryman, ASLA / image: Landscape Architecture Foundation

Through the HomeLand Lab podcast, Maryman highlighted 27 stories that are empathetic and ultimately positive, despite the severity of issues confronting the unsheltered homeless population. He outlined three strategies for dealing with this seemingly insurmountable problem: connection, invitation, and prevention. Landscape architects should focus on how we invite people into public spaces, and what kinds of inclusive programming can make all feel welcome. Safe, economically diverse transportation systems are also an important piece of the puzzle.

One design solution highlighted was the possibility of housing on public lands, such as adding housing to publicly-owned parking lots and rights-of-ways. Better policies, systems, and strategies are needed, and designers should consider ways to enhance the basic notion of shelter to get closer to the concept of home. Specific projects and initiatives Maryman touched on included the Alliance for Pioneer Square and the BLOCK Project in Seattle and Austin’s Community First! Village.

Harriett Jameson Brooks, ASLA / image: Landscape Architecture Foundation

Harriett Jameson Brooks, ASLA, began her presentation with a reflection and a question: how would our understanding of a place be different if others were included? In the US, we often look at history through a selective lens, leaving out certain groups or aspects that are more difficult to reconcile. Looking at the Delta South, a region that is both predominantly rural and African-American, Jameson Brooks was struck by the limited public space culture. There is a demonstrable connection between place and wellbeing—social capital and strong connections can be fostered by public spaces—but these spaces are lacking in the South, where community was historically designed to happen privately, in the home and at church.

While Jameson Brooks acknowledged the importance of familial connections stretching back generations and the deep grooves made by traditions upheld over time, reconciliation is a journey aimed at the future, not the past. Looking at the just-opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery and the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project, Jameson Brooks was inspired at the possibilities for building public space and fostering community in formerly riven areas of the South, focusing on the values we want to instill in the future.

images: Alpa Nawre, ASLA, and Saurabh Lohiya (top)

Alpa Nawre, ASLA, zoomed out by several degrees, looking at the issues associated with water in India, where many regions must handle both monsoon floods and extreme water scarcity. The Parliament of India’s expansive Model Village Scheme has the potential to transform the homes of millions—and Nawre acknowledged that, in order for change on such a massive scale to endure, it must touch everyone. Public space can be the first step, the catalyst, toward creating landscape infrastructure that restores villages’ relationship with water and other natural resources.

The next project, from Scott Douglas, focused on another very large system: America’s sprawling transportation corridors. Looking at highways, railways, and pipelines together, there are more than 2 million acres of corridors waiting to be transformed.

Scott Douglas / image: Landscape Architecture Foundation

Douglas noted how, over the past 50 years, interstate corridors have not changed much, if at all—and they often look eerily similar across the country, no matter the landscape context. Bureaucracy, concerns for worker safety, costs, and the public’s lack of interest and enthusiasm for change were among the deterrents he cited for transportation transformation thus far.

Building off research completed for his MLA thesis at the University of Illinois, Douglas highlighted the opportunities in ecology, productivity, and public education within these corridors. Spaces around roadways could support pollinators, generate power, and store and clean stormwater, among other uses.

Douglas cited The Ray in Georgia as a demonstration project, showcasing how roadways can be reimagined. The Ray is a section of green highway on Georgia’s I-85 with solar-powered vehicle charging stations, agricultural strips growing the grain Kernza, and pollinator gardens, with more green features planned (see “Cultivate the Highway” on page 28 of the March 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine). A critical next step is raising awareness of such examples amongst other Departments of Transportation, and demonstrating the viability of transforming corridors.

The next presentation brought another change of scale, but one that could nonetheless have an outsize impact: transforming the spaces within and around high schools. Claire Latané, ASLA, took a look at school design that supports health and wellbeing—of especially high importance for teens, who are at a time in their lives characterized by a stage of neurodevelopment that heightens stress and anxiety.

On site in Berlin / image: Sharon Danks

Although ideas like attention restoration theory have been around since the 1990s, examples of good applications of it in schools are few and far between. Latané cited B-Traven Oberschule in Berlin, Marshall High School in Fairfax, VA, the School of the Arts and Enterprise in Pomona, CA, and Monio High School in Finland as a few of the rare exemplars. These schools manage to foster communities where teenagers feel welcomed and valued, and allow students opportunities to shape their education, for example, through project-based learning.

Latané concluded with a renewed call for more inclusive design processes. Without policies that encourage these types of school designs, and greater involvement in the design process from both the community surrounding schools and the students themselves, school redesigns will continue to make sometimes-grand architectural gestures without the landscape and spatial features that promote student wellbeing and connections.

Future Landscape Architects of America (FLAA) / image: Nicole Plunkett, ASLA

The last presentation was appropriately forward-looking: progress made so far by Future Landscape Architects of America (FLAA), a nonprofit founded by Nicole Plunkett, ASLA, in 2015. The organization seeks to act as a bridge between landscape architecture professionals, educators, and students, and prospective future members of the profession.

After participating in the Jupiter, FL-based Environmental Research and Field Studies Academy as a high school student, Plunkett vividly remembers her experience speaking to third grade students about landscape architecture, even while new to the field herself. Such early exposure is very rare—many landscape architects learn about the field much later in life, either at college or afterwards, as a second career choice.

University students are among the most active and engaged advocates of the profession, and FLAA aims to create the resources needed for current landscape architecture students and professionals to work with K-12 schools to share what landscape architecture is all about. Starting in Florida, with representatives across the state, FLAA plans to scale up to a national scale. FLAA’s 2018 Curriculum Challenge, now open until June 1, is a step in that direction.

The 2017-2018 LAF Fellows: Claire Latané, Alpa Nawre, Brice Maryman, Scott Douglas, Nicole Plunkett, and Harriett Jameson Brooks / image: Landscape Architecture Foundation
The 2017-2018 LAF Fellows: Claire Latané, Alpa Nawre, Brice Maryman, Scott Douglas, Nicole Plunkett, and Harriett Jameson Brooks / image: Landscape Architecture Foundation

Each LAF Fellow for Innovation and Leadership received a $25,000 award to support their proposed project. Over the course of the year-long fellowship, Fellows dedicate 12 weeks of time to their project and participate in three, 3-day residencies in Washington, D.C. Participating LAF Olmsted Scholars have the unique opportunity to develop and advance their ideas alongside the LAF Fellows in preparation for a future fellowship, partnership, or funding opportunity.

Additional photos from the Symposium may be viewed here. The LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership is supported by the LAF: 50 and Forward campaign.

A number of past and present LAF Fellows will be speaking at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Philadelphia this October:

Pamela Conrad, ASLA, 2018-2019 LAF Fellow
SUN-B03 – Climate Action—Now!

Harriett Jameson Brooks, ASLA, 2017-2018 LAF Fellow (Olmsted Scholar)
SAT-A07 – Building Community Through Landscape: Lessons from the Field

Claire Latané, ASLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, 2017-2018 LAF Fellow
SAT-A07 – Building Community Through Landscape: Lessons from the Field
SUN-B02 – Public Health, Water, and Environmental Justice: A Case for School Landscapes

Brice Maryman, ASLA, 2017-2018 LAF Fellow
SAT-A07 – Building Community Through Landscape: Lessons from the Field

Alpa Nawre, ASLA, 2017-2018 LAF Fellow
FRI-D09 – Water and Social Life in India: Lessons for Practice

Karl Krause, 2018-2019 LAF Fellow
FRI-A08 – Play from the Ground Up: Playground Safety Surfacing in an Urban Context

Registration for the meeting is now open; June 29 is the early bird deadline.

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