In Case You Missed It: Environmental Justice PPN at ASLA San Diego

by Tom Martin, Associate ASLA, and Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA

The 2019 Environmental Justice PPN Meeting
Tom Martin and Chingwen Cheng present at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture / image: ASLA

With the arrival of spring comes an opportunity for reflection, and four months have already passed since the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego.

The theme of landscape architecture and equity, inclusion, justice, and diversity was front and center in San Diego. As education sessions addressed these topics through the lens of profession demographics, engagement strategies, and the implications of past decisions, attendees were challenged to reconsider what the profession of landscape architecture can look like.

Within the Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN), we spent the year leading up to the conference contemplating how environmental justice is understood within our profession, and how we might be able to develop and communicate frameworks that promote environmental justice as a tool for positive change. During our PPN Live session, we addressed our findings and action plan moving forward. Separated into three categories, below is a summary of what was presented.

Investigate!

In March 2019 we distributed a survey with the intent to understand landscape architects’ grasp of and level of interest in environmental justice. We saw this as being a vital first step toward enacting initiatives aimed at better integrating environmental justice into the profession of landscape architecture.

Questions ranged from the comprehension of terms to requests for specific examples of environmental justice and how the EJ PPN can help advance the dialogue, aiming to discern where gaps in professional understanding and opportunities might exist. After several weeks, the survey accrued more than 170 responses from all across the profession. We published the survey results here on The Field in August 2019. We gained insights from both emerging professionals and students, and senior professionals alike, with many speaking to the current pressures in homelessness and unequal distribution of environmental burdens, opportunities in civic engagement and professional development, and the variety of interpretations of what environmental justice really means.

We intended to make the PPN Live session at the conference an interactive one. After presenting an overview of the spring survey findings, during the PPN presentation we posed a question to session attendees and then the audience broke out into small groups. Attendees discussed and recorded their answers to “What issue of equity is the most relevant and pressing in your community?”

A sampling of answers to the question “What issue of equity is the most relevant and pressing in your community?” / image: Tom Martin

Synthesize!

After the spring survey, the EJ PPN launched a pilot case study project prior to the conference. The purpose of the case study is to synthesize information gathered on the intersection of environmental justice and landscape architecture. One question posed in the survey asked respondents if they had an environmental justice project that they would like to share with other ASLA members. After following up, we received several case studies of how environmental justice principles can be applied to projects in landscape architecture. Formatted into a one-page project sheet, each case study provides an explanation of engagement techniques, resources utilized, project outcomes, and lessons learned.

The intent is to develop a broad database of case studies that give others in the profession direct examples of how to integrate environmental justice into their projects. Better comprehension of methods, resources, and outcomes in environmental justice can help to make these projects more common in the landscape architecture profession.

The case study template with a case study titled “Park in a Truck,” located in Philadelphia.

Communicate!

Recognizing the gaps in the understanding of environmental justice, it was clear that communication would be vital part of moving forward. Case studies provide a great start, but how does the EJ PPN facilitate conversations nationally? Locally? We need to investigate how to develop and communicate frameworks for how environmental justice can be utilized as a tool for communities of all sizes, everywhere.

Inspired by a panel discussion event hosted by ASLA-NY, we saw the opportunity to create templates for other local chapters to host similar events. By providing a forum for community leaders, designers, educators, and policymakers to discuss equity and justice in the profession, local communities can better shape the discussion to their specific needs. The Environmental Justice Event Guide provides possible goals, guiding questions, resources, and potential guests or speakers to invite.

The Environmental Justice Event Guide

ASLA’s EJ PPN Co-Chairs continue to coordinate with local chapter presidents to make these events happen with more regularity.

Between the 2019 survey, the accrual of case studies, and the plans for future environmental justice events, the EJ PPN has several initiatives focused on making equity, environmental racism, and access to green space (among others focus areas) of greater significance to landscape architects. The PPN plans to compile these initiatives into A Practitioner’s Guide to Environmental Justice, building upon the ASLA award-winning A Student’s Guide to Environmental Justice. The EJ PPN aims to provide students, educators, and professionals alike a resource on environmental justice that addresses questions on what it is, why it is important, and how you can utilize it in your own practice.

The EJ PPN leadership team is looking for members who share common values and an interest in addressing equity and justice in the landscape architecture profession. If you would like to participate in any of the above initiatives, please email the EJ PPN Co-Chairs, Tom and Chingwen, or submit the online PPN leadership form to join the team.

Chingwen, an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Arizona State University, is also involved with a project on design activism in landscape architecture led by Dr. Jeff Hou, ASLA, who is in the 2019-2020 cohort of the LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. They are conducting a survey that is intended to build an open-source database of online materials and instructional resources in support of design for social change, and welcome suggestions for online, open-access materials that support learning in community design, public interest design, design activism, and design justice. For those who are available to offer guest teaching or if you are interested in inviting others to your courses, we also encourage you to sign up here. We appreciate your time and input!

Tom Martin, Associate ASLA, and Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, LEED AP, are co-chairs of ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN).

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