Towards an Expanded History of Environmental Justice

by Ellen Burke, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP

A view of the Hudson River and adjoining neighborhood that would have been most impacted by sewage from Vassar College prior to Ellen Swallow Richards’ intervention. / image: Poughkeepsie bridge, 1906, Detroit Publishing Company via Library of Congress

Towards an Expanded History of Environmental Justice in America: Ellen Swallow Richards and Human Ecology


Histories of environmental justice (EJ) in the United States situate its founding in the late 20th century, in grass-roots activism to address environmental harms such as pollution in inhabited places, including urban neighborhoods and rural communities. EJ is described as challenging traditional ideas of environmentalism in the US that focus on “pristine wilderness” and endangered species, and scholars of the movement have noted the ways that race and gender intersect with differing approaches to defining environmentalism [1, 2]. Early leaders in traditional environmentalism were largely white men, writers like John Muir and Henry Thoreau. In contrast, early leaders of the EJ movement were largely women and often poor women of color. Their focus was on links between human and environmental health, and on calls for self-determination in the quality of one’s immediate lived environment.

In 1982 residents of Warren County, North Carolina, challenged the siting of a toxic-waste landfill facility in their community with six weeks of marches and protests, including blockading trucks arriving at the landfill. This organized action, while not the first of its kind, is often identified as the beginning of the EJ movement [3]. Other histories locate the movement’s beginnings in 1968 with Dr. Martin Luther King’s support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, or the 1969 grape boycott organized by United Farm Workers [4]. Each of these events are direct actions taken to protect human health, and recognize that burdens of pollution are inequitably distributed based on race and class. Gordon Walker’s seven characteristics of the EJ movement are evident in these early actions, including emphasis on the politics of race, a focus on justice to people in the environment, and demands for participatory justice [5].

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Invest in Nature

by Gracie Tilman

The SITES-certified Cultural Arts Corridor: The Lower Ramble in Fayetteville, Arkansas. / image: Watershed Conservation Resource Center

The U.S. Green Building Council is investing in our planet. Our nature-based solutions strategy, which was submitted to the White House “Invest in Nature” call to action for nature-based commitments and investments, will guide us in creating new opportunities for learning, and increasing access to, nature-based solutions.

To create more awareness and reach new audiences:

  • USGBC will promote nature-based education in our course catalog by offering free courses related to the SITES program for Earth Day (through May).
  • USGBC will connect experienced professionals with others who are seeking education in nature-based solutions and SITES, collaborate with organizations who represent or convene diverse or disadvantaged landscape professionals to understand their needs, and provide a free virtual introduction to SITES, along with discounts to the SITES AP credential.
  • In addition, USGBC will emphasize nature-based solutions in the biodiversity-themed summer issue of USGBC+ and create new training and education where needs are identified.

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Landscape Architecture for the Next Generation

Taking part in the Parkitecture Spring Camp at the Science Museum Oklahoma / image: courtesy of Subhashini Gamagedara, ASLA

Earlier this week in LAND, you read about two ASLA chapter programs launched to address the need to expand the diversity of the profession and to spark interest in landscape architecture as a career in young minds. Today, we are highlighting two career discovery activity examples from Professional Practice Network (PPN) leaders. We hope these initiatives, along with everything else happening for this World Landscape Architecture Month, might inspire you to share your passion for the field with the next generation.

From Subhashini (Subi) Gamagedara, ASLA, LEED AP, Park Planner for OKC Parks and a Women in Landscape Architecture PPN leader:

I recently had the opportunity to be the guest critic at a Spring Camp conducted by the Science Museum Oklahoma. The Spring Camp was themed Parkitecture and was focused on providing an enriching hands-on design experience on parks to participants aged 8-12. At the end of the week-long camp, they had created 3D models of a variety of parks, which they had to present to their class.

I was blown away by the creativity, empathy, and the level of critical thinking that these “young designers” demonstrated. Their work was outstanding. Through the presentations and the discussions that followed, we explored how intricate and muti-faceted park projects are in the real world. It was also a golden opportunity to talk about the benefits, expectations, responsibilities, and challenges associated with public parks.

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Campus Planning & Design Highlights from San Francisco

Left to right: Tony Catchot, ASLA, April Riehm, Student ASLA, Joe Favour, ASLA, Taylor Wilson, Associate ASLA, David Cutter, FASLA, SITES AP, Krista M. Van Hove, ASLA, and Stan Szwalek, ASLA, PLA / image: courtesy of the Campus Planning & Design PPN leadership team

We can’t believe spring is already upon us! The Campus Planning & Design PPN is busy planning another great year of connection and engagement amongst our colleagues and peers. Before we dive into future planning, we wanted to share a recap of last year’s PPN gathering at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Francisco.

Last year, the Campus Planning & Design PPN leadership team sent out a call for student presenters to submit their original research or design work focused on how campuses can create inclusive communities that contribute positively to well-being, diversity, and sustainability. We were pleased to extend the invitation to two candidates to speak at the PPN meeting. First, Taylor Wilson, Associate ASLA, an MLA candidate at North Carolina State University, presented her research on “Trail Oriented Development’s Role in Higher Education & Student Health.” Second, April Riehm, Student ASLA, a dual-degree Masters candidate in both Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning at Clemson University, presented her research on “Campus Playscapes: Designing a Built Environment that Creates more Equity and Inclusion for Students with ADHD and other Learning Disabilities at Clemson University.”

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A Spring Bloom of Opportunities

ASLA 2022 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Moakley Park Resilience Plan, Boston, MA. Stoss Landscape Urbanism / image: Stoss Landscape Urbanism

From World Landscape Architecture Month to webinars to the ASLA Student Awards and ASLA Fund Research Grants, there’s lots going on this spring! In case your calendar isn’t quite full yet, or if you’re looking for projects to take part in, there’s more to explore on ASLA’s RFQs, Opportunities, and Events page, which provides information on everything from calls for papers to competitions. Below, we highlight recently submitted RFPs and RFQs. Anyone who would like to share an opportunity may submit information online.

RFQ: Master Planning, Landscape, Architectural, & Engineering Services RLI Parcel Riverfront Recapture, Inc.
Deadline: May 8, 2023

Riverfront Recapture is soliciting proposals from qualified teams experienced in waterfront park design to provide Master Planning, Landscape, Architectural Design, & Engineering Services for a new riverfront park, regional trail extension, and a contemplated commercial development in Riverfront Recapture’s parcel bordering Hartford and Windsor, Connecticut.

RFP: City Landscape Architect for Alhambra, CA
Deadline: May 8, 2023

The City of Alhambra is requesting qualified firms to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP) to serve as a consulting City Landscape Architect to provide professional landscape design review services.

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Perceived Safety & Equitable Access: An Investigation of the Northwest Arkansas Greenway

by Jessica Shearman, Associate ASLA

Context map (detail) / image: Jessica Shearman, Assoc. ASLA

Urban connectivity via green corridors that also integrate habitat is a tool for promoting resilience. Other than functioning as sustainable design and development, these areas can also serve people when combining green corridors and public space. With these types of public spaces, the function expands to not just habitat and ecology, but also reverberating social systems into equitable and just spaces.

As designers and planners, we view public space as the lifeblood for sustainable and democratic places, and policymakers are also catching on, with the United Nations’ 2017 Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development concluding that urban spaces are important for addressing global challenges. While prioritizing regional ecological connections with increasing access to public space seemingly accomplishes a range of objectives, a conflict around the public’s perception of safety in these spaces may arise.

Perceived safety can be defined as an awareness and emotional reaction to space and place based on one’s background and experiences. It can be directly linked to equitable access and the universal right to mobility and public space regardless of gender, race, sexuality, age, abilities, and resources. A lack of perceived safety considerations often inhibits certain communities and groups from accessing public or green spaces, thus limiting their quality of life. While creating public spaces that are ecologically resilient can promote green connections, these spaces can also be a barrier for some marginalized communities accessing space. These issues provoke questions around how we can reconcile potential conflicts and create resilient green space, perceived safety, and equitable access.

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Welcoming Spring in the Brandywine Valley

by Alexandra Hay

Chanticleer / image: Alexandra Hay

I am a supporter of the British concept of the mini-break. Every weekend should be treated like a vacation, a time to do something a little bit special, even if you’re not going very far. For a spring break this year, I didn’t venture too far from my usual environs—I live in Washington, DC, and made a jaunt over to Delaware—but made the most of it with visits to three gardens nearby.

Northern Delaware and the outskirts of Philadelphia are home to a surprising number of gardens and horticultural destinations, from Longwood Gardens to the Mt. Cuba Center to the elaborately designed landscapes surrounding the mansions of various duPonts. This area is within relatively short drives from Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, and is well worth a visit. If you attended the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Philadelphia back in 2018, many of these spots may be familiar from the field sessions that year. Even if you attended one of these sessions, that was October—these same places in spring are just as extraordinary, and I’d revisit them all in every season and am sure I’d find just as much to look at.

While the three spots highlighted here are all different in scale and scope, I’d recommend any of them if you need a day out to recharge in nature and to bask outdoors while surrounded by aesthetically astonishing plantings. It was a beautiful way to welcome World Landscape Architecture Month.

Villanova, Pennsylvania

Natural Lands oversees this public garden and nature preserve, with grounds designed by Olmsted Brothers that have been reimagined as a landscape that “celebrates the beauty of native plants and the importance of biodiversity.”

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