The [Landscape] Architecture of Change in Emerging Markets

by Brandon S. Peters, ASLA

Rwanda photo
Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills. / image: Brandon S. Peters, ASLA

How can we make the most impact as landscape architects or designers in emerging markets? It is a question that I have been asking myself over the past 10 years as I lived and worked in China and Rwanda.

The definition of an emerging market is a developing nation that is becoming more engaged with global markets as it grows but is still developing from a low income, less developed, often pre-industrial economy. One of the common misconceptions of emerging markets is that they are the “rise of the rest” where in actuality they are the “rise of the most” as their population and land mass dwarfs the world’s most developed nations. The emerging world is coming and we all as stewards of the planet and as landscape architects should be active in it: investing in it, physically being in it, and embracing it.

In 1993, this view would have only included the Pearl TV Tower (building on the far left). / image: Brandon S. Peters, ASLA

There are many challenges facing emerging countries from Africa to the Indian sub-continent but arguably none is more pressing than climate change. This is where we as landscape architects have a substantial opportunity to make a difference. Rather than focusing on its negative effects, climate change is a catalyst to improve the quality of design and utilize and evolve the current in-situ standards while developing large scale strategies that can impact city and regional issues. By bringing to the table design solutions that can shift the paradigm to carbon-neutral high-performing solutions we can deliver better quality landscapes and spaces and develop greener, healthier cities.

A woman contemplates the rolling mountains outside Changsha, China. / image: Brandon S. Peters, ASLA
Workers build much needed affordable (and sustainable) housing in Rwanda. / image: Brandon S. Peters, ASLA

Currently, much of the development of emerging countries’ infrastructure relies on the importation of construction equipment and materials. As professionals well-versed in the environment and ecosystems, we can play a critical role in elevating the use of natural, local materials and put emphasis on the origin, extraction, production, and transport of materials to encourage more sustainable project development.

In general, emerging markets lag behind developed economies in environmental stewardship. However, resource depletion pressures, coupled with grassroot movements to preserve environmental sanctity, have opened up opportunities to innovate and leapfrog sustainability challenges in developing economies. There are significant opportunities to make an impact by solving these challenges sustainably and it starts with even the smallest projects.

The Northern Rwandan countryside, where the preservation of the natural ecosystems and reduction of village sprawl is key. / image: Brandon S. Peters, ASLA

Currently, there is coordination through the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) Africa on a Climate Change Working Group and there are many professionals and firms that have dedicated themselves to assisting the underserved. If you are interested in getting involved, don’t hesitate. By reaching out to the local population, lending a hand in competition work, and recruiting and involving local talent who have an understanding of the pressing needs and challenges, we can make a difference.

Brandon S. Peters, ASLA, is the Director of A Complete Unknown, a non-profit design firm based out of Washington, D.C. A licensed landscape architect and business development leader, his career has included living and working in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. His time in practice has included work on civic, mixed-use, multi-family, and single-family typologies. He has spoken at the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Conference in Washington D.C., been interviewed in MARKETER Magazine, and written for the International Federation of Landscape Architects and ASLA. He has also served as a juror for the Marketing Communication Awards and for the Washington Chapter of ASLA (WASLA).

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