Segregated communities in various parts of the world have long been subjected to systemic oppression, resulting in enduring cycles of trauma that span generations. Systemic oppression can manifest in the form of racial discrimination, economic disparities, lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and other basic resources, and the perpetuation of social stereotypes. These communities often face a multitude of challenges, including high levels of stress, violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues due to the cumulative effects of historical and contemporary injustices.
Intergenerational trauma refers to the transmission of trauma and its effects across multiple generations within a community. It is a complex phenomenon that has deep-seated roots in historical injustices such as slavery, colonization, and institutional racism. This ongoing trauma hinders the well-being and development of individuals and communities, perpetuating a cycle that is difficult to break.
Trauma-informed design, a concept rooted in trauma-informed care principles, recognizes the need to create environments that are sensitive to the experiences of trauma survivors. While commonly applied in healthcare and social services, the application of trauma-informed design principles in the built environment and community planning is an emerging field. This approach emphasizes safety, empowerment, and the prevention of re-traumatization in physical spaces and social interactions.
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 . 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 . 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 .
This past year, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) created new funding opportunities for transportation and green infrastructure projects. ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) are working to share information to support landscape architects thinking about growing your practice in transportation. See below for a few ways to learn more about these new sources of funding.
– Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Transportation Professional Practice Network (PPN) leader
Increase Access to Transit in Low-Income Neighborhoods
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration announced $20 million in competitive grants to help improve public transit in rural and urban areas experiencing long-term economic distress.
This grant is a part of the Areas of Persistent Poverty Program, which aims to build modern infrastructure and an equitable, climate-secure future. Specifically, the program supports increased transit access for environmental justice populations, community outreach and public engagement, and the transition to low- and no-emission vehicles and associated charging equipment.
For projects eligible under the Areas of Persistent Poverty Program, applicants should reference:
FTA Circular 8100-1D – Program Guidance for Metropolitan Planning and State Planning and Research Program Grants and
FTA Circular 9030.1E – Urbanized Area Formula Program: Program Guidance and Application Instructions.
As practitioners and advocates of environmental justice, we know that many communities across the country fall short of achieving equity and justice in terms of access to quality green spaces and being overburdened with negative environmental exposures. In this collaborative Field post, we highlight a few voices around the profession on why and how landscape architects should remain committed towards integrating environmental justice in our respective practices.
– Michelle Lin-Luse, ASLA, PLA, and Tom Martin, ASLA, on behalf of the Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN) Leadership Team
Cher Wong, Associate ASLA
Landscape Architect at SmithGroup
Why are you interested in the intersection of environmental justice and landscape architecture?
From many landscape architects’ training processes, including mine, we didn’t pay enough attention to learning how our work is closely tied with social, economic, political implications and how every design language has a historical context behind it. Now, when I stand at the intersection of environmental justice and landscape architecture as a designer, I see contradictions between our traditional definition of ‘design excellence’ and the implications of many landscape architecture work in environmental justice.
But I also see opportunities on how much we need to develop new design languages that break the contradiction and better support environmental justice.
One of the most frequently requested resources amongst landscape architects working on environmental justice is a database of precedent projects to reference. Since 2019, the ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (EJ PPN) has been collecting case studies in order to build a robust set of examples of how to promote environmental justice into our field of practice. A new project featuring a new park in a low-income area with limited access to open spaces was recently added to this PPN resource:
Officer Daniel Webster Children’s Park
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Owner: City of Albuquerque
Designer: MRWM Landscape Architects
Contractor: Lee Landscapes
This park is in Albuquerque’s International District, a neighborhood that has limited parks and other public open spaces. In the early planning phases, the neighborhood strongly advocated for a park instead of developing the vacant site as a municipal bus facility. Three phases of the park have been constructed and include a large shaded play structure, group gathering areas, and a turf area with rolling hills and dense trees. Future phases will include a turf recreation field, nature-play spaces, and additional group activity areas. This park is a valued community space, providing a critical green space in a low-income neighborhood.
Part 2: Cultural and Institutional Transformations
Cultural and institutional transformations were the focus of the second panel which began by discussing initiatives that have been underway at several institutions, the processes by which these changes are being implemented, challenges faced, and stories of success. The panel also discussed the role of institutions of higher learning in society and the actions that could be taken within these institutions to build bridges and connections with civil society to reimagine and work towards creating a just and equitable future for all.
Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, from Arizona State University began with a discussion of the ReDesigning the Design School initiative at ASU, started in 2019. The initiative involved listening to hundreds of voices from industry, alumni, students, staff, and faculty over hundreds of hours of meetings, and hundreds of pages of reports, over the course of two years. Cheng served on the Executive Committee for the ReDesign Committee, which identified six strategic goals:
build a truly accessible design school,
teach designers to be human-centered,
reinvent the relationship between community and design school,
by Jeffrey Hou, Ph.D., ASLA, and Mallika Bose, Ph.D.
The following two-part series is a summary of a recent panel on decolonizing design education that took place at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA)‘s 2021 conference. In order to address systemic racism and biases within institutions that teach landscape architecture, we must confront the way our profession approaches the teaching and production of knowledge within landscape architecture that replicates racist and oppressive processes, policies, and outcomes in communities of color.
– ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network Leadership Team
Part 1: Curricular and Pedagogical Transformation
With the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, calls to dismantle longstanding barriers and biases in society have been permeating through our political, social, and economic systems, including design education. Amid the recent calls for change, “decolonizing design” has become a rallying cry among many students and faculty in disciplines ranging from architecture to art and design (see, for example, “Architecture’s Colonial Reckoning” from The Architect’s Newspaper and “What Does It Mean to Decolonize Design?” from AIGA Eye on Design).
But what does decolonizing mean in design? For landscape architecture, what does it mean to decolonize our educational practices? What changes are necessary to transform the power structure that produces and sustains the inequity in society through design? What are the challenges and barriers? What actions and initiatives already exist?
These questions were at the center of a two-part, main-stage panel discussion at the annual conference of the Council of Educators for Landscape Architecture (CELA), held online in March 2021. The first session focused on issues related to curriculum and pedagogy, featuring David de la Peña, University of California, Davis; Alison Hirsch, ASLA, University of Southern California; Joern Langhorst, University of Colorado, Denver; and Deni Ruggeri, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. The second session addressed cultural and institutional transformation, featuring Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, Arizona State University; Michael Rios, University of California, Davis; and Julie Stevens, Iowa State University. We served respectively as the moderators for the two panels.
The speakers were invited to speak about their involvement with related initiatives either at the program, department, college, or university level. In Session 1, Alison Hirsch has been working with a network of colleagues in North America to rethink the history curriculum in landscape architecture. In his recent role as program director, David de la Peña has been working with his colleagues and students in reassessing the program curriculum at UC Davis. At UC Denver, Joern Langhorst has focused on transdisciplinary opportunities at the college level. As the lead for the Landscape Education for Democracy (LED) initiative, Deni Ruggeri has developed an online, collaborative, multinational program to complement existing programs and curricula focusing on landscape democracy and participatory action research. (The work of those in the second panel will be introduced in Part 2 of this summary.)
With Park(ing) Day—this Friday, September 17, 2021—just days away, leaders from ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN) have shared their experiences with Park(ing) Day, how they have highlighted environmental justice issues through their parklet designs, and their thoughts on Park(ing) Day as a platform to address environmental justice.
Chingwen Cheng, ASLA
PPN Officer and Past Co-Chair
Program Head and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture + Urban Design + Environmental Design, The Design School, Arizona State University
Park(ing) Day started by responding to a lack of people-centered urban design and automobile-driven urban development. Transforming a parking space to a park space is a statement to advocate for inclusive and people-centered design. Many neighborhoods in Phoenix have experienced inequitable distribution of open space and urban tree canopy, resulting in vulnerable conditions under extreme heat and divergent health outcomes. Park(ing) Day provides a space and time for landscape architecture professionals and educators to get together and advocate for creating quality environments for all.
by Michelle Lin-Luse, ASLA, and Sarah Kwon, Affil. ASLA
The Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (EJ PPN) held a virtual workshop in early April, facilitated by co-chairs Michelle Lin-Luse and Sarah Kwon. Our intentions were two-fold:
to raise awareness of the history of the Environmental Justice Movement by lifting up the stories and organizing efforts by Black and brown communities fighting environmental racism, and
create a space for community-building among environmental justice advocates within the landscape architectural community.
A Living History: An Interactive Timeline
After establishing the workshop space with a land acknowledgement, we introduced the participants to the history of the environmental justice movement through the EJ PPN Living History Timeline, an interactive, web-based timeline of the environmental justice movement that links our personal histories to the larger movement. This timeline is built from an open-source online tool designed by the Global Action Project, an organization that uses media-based organizing and popular education to connect personal histories to the larger ebbs and flows of social movements.
The EJ PPN Living History Timeline is an interactive timeline principally organized by key moments of environmental justice movement history, such as the events leading up to the adoption of the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. Adjoining the EJ movement history is a timeline documenting the chronology of the formation of ASLA’s Environmental Justice PPN, its past programs, and ongoing initiatives to advance environmental justice within the field of landscape architecture.
Nature-based solutions (NBS) is a concept developed to promote nature as a means for providing solutions for societal challenges. The concept has been widely adopted for environmental science and policies addressing issues such as water security, food security, disaster risk management, human health, economic and social development, and climate change (IUCN, 2016). NBS are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystem benefits. Examples include green infrastructure, landscape planning and design, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems restoration, and environmental design to address climate change adaptation, urban resilience, and sustainable development. The field of landscape architecture has been the champion for and major contributor to planning, designing, and implementing NBS at various scales and applications in serving diverse societal needs both in the public and private sectors.
While NBS operate under ecological principles, the social systems that NBS are being operated within and the potential negative impacts that NBS perpetuate in communities (e.g., green gentrification) have brought justice concerns. NBS including green infrastructures have been integrated into spatial climate justice planning through identifying social-ecological-technological systems vulnerability to climate change (Cheng, 2016; 2019). As policies and resources are becoming available in support of implementing NBS in communities for addressing climate change challenges (e.g., the EU’s European Green Deal, the US’s Green New Deal), we must proceed with caution and be willing to investigate project impacts to ensure equity is addressed while systemic injustice are rectified in the politics of planning (Goh, 2020).
Just NBS include opportunities to transform systemic injustice associated with race and class, a meaningful participatory process for transformative co-production, and using value articulation to prioritize resources, measure successes, and create culture shifts to address issues of environmental justice (Cousins, 2021).
Nature-based Solutions for Urban Resilience in the Anthropocene (NATURA) is a network of scholars and practitioners in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and Latin America that aim to understand the interconnected feedback between social, ecological, and technological systems on NBS outcomes. The NATURA Design for Justice Survey is a project undertaken by the NATURA Design for Justice Thematic Working Group to investigate and bridge the gap between theory and practices in design justice through research, design, implementation, and management of NBS projects. This particular survey is designed for ASLA members and design practitioners associated with NBS. The findings will be used to understand the state of practice of incorporating environmental justice in the profession in support of ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network’s mission.
The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. Your participation is greatly appreciated.
by Sarah Kwon, Affil. ASLA, and Michelle Lin-Luse, ASLA
Help Build the ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (EJ PPN)’s Case Studies Database
One of the most frequently requested resources amongst landscape architects working on environmental justice is a database of precedent projects to reference. Since 2019, the EJ PPN has been collecting case studies in order to build a robust database of precedents. This database will share examples of how to integrate environmental justice into our field of practice.
You may submit your case study by completing this online form, which has a series of questions to collect information about engagement techniques, resources used, project outcomes, and lessons learned. We are interested in featuring your projects that demonstrate how environmental justice principles can be applied to design processes and outcomes.
Examples of incorporating environmental justice into your projects may include (but are not limited to) the following:
design processes that center on community voices;
projects that address disproportionate environmental burdens; and
outcomes that honor the cultural integrity of all communities.
Environmental justice for vulnerable groups addresses inequitable distribution of resources or denial of participation in decision-making. The unhoused are one of our most vulnerable groups, and the COVID-19 outbreak puts vulnerable urban populations, especially people experiencing homelessness, in impossible circumstances. The issue of homelessness has escalated in the past decade, driven by economic polarization and the housing crisis. Since COVID-19’s spread through the United States, we have witnessed rising numbers of unhoused people, a trend likely to continue.
Critical discussions on how cities and civil society are responding to this crisis question traditional roles of environmental design. In this post, we explore how landscape architects can contribute to ongoing struggles of spatial justice, particularly by addressing homelessness in the post-pandemic world. We draw specific examples from Eugene, Oregon, the city with the highest homeless population per capita in the U.S. One third of Eugene’s unhoused population experiences mental illness of some kind, many camp along the Willamette River where increased flooding due to climate change threatens them and, with the recent record-breaking wildfire in September, they breathed smoke-filled air for more than a week of hazardous air quality.
Each threat exposes unhoused people to significant health impacts. As a mid-sized city with a population of 170,000, Eugene is known for its pioneering community-wide efforts in addressing the housing crisis and homelessness, including affordable housing movements, tiny house villages, and rest stops. As an alternative to policing, Eugene partnered with a non-profit to provide CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets), a mobile intervention program responding to mental health, substance abuse, and housing crises. Eugene and Lane County have also been actively looking for housing solutions, including building an additional large low-barrier emergency shelter with 75 beds and 350 units of permanent supportive housing units.
In the fall of 2019, the University of Oregon’s studio “Planning for Home: Landscape Approach for Resilient Transitional Housing,” taught by Yekang Ko and Shannon Arms, ASLA, proposed a systematic approach to the creation of a city-wide housing network that includes emergency shelters, transitional housing communities (up to two years), and permanent supportive and/or affordable housing.
The Urban Studio has three exciting and relevant programs of interest to members of the Environmental Justice PPN! Not only will you gain new insights into your own practice, you’ll be supporting the Urban Studio’s mission to advance the landscape architecture profession to create more healthy, vibrant, and just communities for all.
– Michelle Lin-Luse, ASLA, PLA, Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN) Co-Chair
The Urban Studio’s three-part virtual event series, Pardon Our Disruption, begins today. Supporting these events helps create pathways for young professionals and shake up the landscape architecture profession in order to accelerate efforts toward a more equitable future for all.
Upset the Set Up Tuesday, December 1, 4:00 p.m. (Eastern) / 1:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Join us for an interactive workshop to learn about effective co-creation tools and methods for meaningful community engagement. Facilitated by The Urban Studio’s creative engagement experts Daví de la Cruz, Associate ASLA, and Jenn Low, PLA, plus special guests Daniel Villa and his work with Hello Data and Christin Hu to talk about their work designing cooperative games. These tools and methods will cover a few central themes when designing for engagement: power, co-learning, storytelling, and play.
Interrupt the Program Tuesday, December 8, 4:00 p.m. (Eastern) / 1:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Join The Urban Studio co-founders Kendra Hyson, ASLA, and Maisie Hughes in conversation with Kona Gray, FASLA, PLA, Principal of EDSA, and Torey Carter-Conneen, the new CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects, to reimagine the future of landscape architecture.
Digitize the Revolution Tuesday, December 15, 4:00 p.m. (Eastern) / 1:00 p.m. (Pacific)
Explore the intersection of mapping and social justice with Andrew Sargeant, ASLA, and Jelani Byrd as they demonstrate how to democratize data using open-source assets and live, 3D mapping with QGIS.
ASLA members were invited to take part in this virtual forum as an opportunity to converse with peers about their observations and experiences, new developments being planned or currently underway, and what they are seeing locally in terms of park and play space usage or changes in use.
PPN leaders and members came together for small-group discussions within Zoom breakout rooms focused on what’s happening in parks and playspaces, and what landscape architects are hearing from clients and stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tom Martin, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
Bronwen Mastro, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer
Matt Boehner, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer
Four discussion topics and prompts were provided to spark discussion and input from attendees, who ranged from students to firm principals who came from across the U.S., along with a few based internationally. Below, we recap key points, recurring trends, and takeaways from the conversation.
Shared Dialogue and Community-Driven Authorship in the Joe Louis Greenway Framework Plan
“We Hope for Better Things”
Detroit’s history has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. As a burgeoning auto industry attracted workers at the turn of the twentieth century and sustained them and their families into the 1950s, Detroit became the birthplace of the American middle class. In many ways, the city came to exemplify the American dream and, at the same time, the intrinsic characteristics which made it so elusive to communities of color.
Over the following decades, Detroit, like so many Rust Belt cities, was subject to the extreme consequences of economic decline and collapse. With industrial shutdowns came loss of jobs and residents. This, compounded with the effects of corrupt political, policing, and planning systems, served to only exacerbate the issues of preexisting racial inequalities. The impacts are still very evident in the city today.
Although Detroit’s story has become one of the most iconic, the city is not alone in the scars it bears. Inflicted by centuries of discriminatory policies and pervasive racial injustices in our systems that persist today, these wounds run deep in our American cities. Now, more than ever, we see evidence of this across the nation, brought into sharper focus by the Black Lives Matter movement—with collective voices that are speaking out against violence and systemic injustice against people of color. As Detroit works to rebuild itself, it must do so with a dedicated focus on equity and racial justice, and a commitment to creating more inclusive social and physical infrastructure.
by Tom Martin, Associate ASLA, and Chingwen Cheng, PhD, 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.
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.
To really understand the American landscape, you need to know about the Doctrine of Discovery. As a set of principles used to justify European colonization, it grew over hundreds of years to become a pillar of international law, and it set the stage for centuries of imperialism worldwide.
These days, most people agree that not everyone benefited from the process of U.S. colonization. White settlers broke treaties with Native American nations, drove the buffalo nearly to extirpation, and ripped children from their mothers to be sold as slaves in the service of cotton production. But unless you’re Native American, it’s likely you’ve never heard of “Discovery.” ASLA’s position on environmental justice calls on us to address unequal distribution of resources related to land, including clean air, water, and food. The colonialist Doctrine of Discovery is at the root of unequal distribution in the United States, and for that reason it’s essential that we know about it.
This spring, the Environmental Justice PPN conducted a survey in order to learn about landscape architects’ understanding of and interests in environmental justice. Input from ASLA members is critical in shaping the EJ PPN and moving our profession forward. Landscape architects also have the opportunity to serve as a community-focused linchpin on multidisciplinary project teams, crafting designs in response to community input and inviting all stakeholders to the table to engage in the planning and design process. With allied professions and organizations, including the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects, updating their codes of ethics and professional conduct to reflect stronger support for environmental justice, we wanted to hear from landscape architects for their perspective.
The survey responses will aid in future communications with local ASLA chapters, projects such as a practitioner’s guide to environmental justice, and establishing a platform for EJ dialogue and resource sharing. As we continue working on those initiatives, we wanted to share a recap of the survey results and a few highlights and insights from the more than 170 responses received.
by Katie Kingery-Page, PLA, ASLA, and Skylar Brown, Student ASLA
Use of public space, such as plazas, streetscapes and parks, by people living unhoused (a.k.a homeless) is persistently viewed as a social problem. Many cities in the United States have attempted to use legal ordinance to place strictures on where unhoused people may congregate or receive services. Several homeless advocacy organizations track such ordinances and they have been detailed in the mainstream press.
According to a recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, “Homelessness is caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing. Over 12.8% of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.” Homeless advocates widely agree that criminalization of being homeless in public does not help the conditions of homeless people or result in better access to services.
An equity worldview requires cities to plan public spaces for all people. Landscape architects have a strong role to play in promoting inclusion of services and amenities for unhoused people in urban parks. This post begins by asserting why fear of the homeless in public parks is unfounded, then takes a look at recent examples of inclusive parks, built and unbuilt.
Misconceptions of Homelessness
Referring to people living unhoused as “the homeless” implies that their condition is permanent and even of their own choosing. While there may be some cases in which this is true, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, many people find themselves suddenly without housing after a job loss, rent increase, or home foreclosure. According to the same report, “Family homelessness has been on the rise since the inception of the foreclosure crisis in 2007.” In an attempt to respect the varied circumstances and dignity of these persons, we use the phrase “persons living unhoused” throughout this blog post. But because “homeless” is a widely used term, we don’t exclude it from our writing.
The ASLA Environmental Justice PPN provides a forum for ASLA members involved in, inspired by, and interested in pursuing environmental justice through education, research, and practice. Throughout 2018, the Environmental Justice PPN has hosted virtual presentations with live Q&A, focused on issues most important to its members. All Environmental Justice PPN members are invited to participate in these monthly events, allowing members to expand their networks, and hear from design professionals who are playing an important role in addressing environmental justice. On November 8, Christian Rodriguez, Community Associate at Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), joined the conversation on KDI’s work in the Eastern Coachella Valley of southern California.
About KDI is a non-profit design and community development organization with teams in Los Angeles, CA, and Nairobi, Kenya. KDI partners with under-resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in their neighborhoods and cities through advocacy, research, planning, and built works. KDI realizes this mission through advocacy, research, planning, and built works.
Context The Eastern Coachella Valley (ECV), located 2.5 hours east of Los Angeles, CA, is a cluster of unincorporated communities just minutes away from Palm Springs and some of the most expensive zip codes in the country. The ECV is a historically under resourced region and its communities, composed of agricultural workers and a migrant population, face environmental injustices such as poor air quality, substandard housing, lack of clean water, and basic infrastructure. The residents of these communities live along the shoreline of the rapidly drying Salton Sea, California’s largest lake.
For over a century, the Salton Sea water levels were maintained through surrounding agricultural runoff. In 2003, the primary water source for the surrounding agricultural lands was affected by the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), created to reduce California’s over-dependence on Colorado River water while also making more water available for urban use in San Diego County. This diversion of water and reduction of agricultural runoff has caused the Salton Sea waterline to recede. In the coming decades, more of the contaminated lake bed will become exposed, spreading harmful dust and fine particles, and exacerbating the already poor air quality in the region. KDI, in partnership with a larger NGO network, is part of an Environmental Justice Campaign that seeks to inform the government efforts to mitigate these environmental and health impacts with the voices and needs of the immediate community.
The ASLA Environmental Justice PPN provides a forum for ASLA members involved in, inspired by, and interested in pursuing environmental justice through education, research, and practice. Throughout 2018, the Environmental Justice PPN has hosted virtual presentations with live Q&A, focused on issues most important to its members. All Environmental Justice PPN members are invited to participate in these monthly events, allowing members to expand their networks, and hear from design professionals who are playing an important role in addressing environmental justice. On August 16, Elaine Morales, Design Manager at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP [bc] joined the conversation on public interest design and equity.
buildingcommunityWORKSHOP ([bc]) is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. We enrich the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. To do so, [bc] recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work.
Our diverse team employs public interest design methodologies to address these issues with an equity lens. Our practice leverages the diverse skill set of our team—encompassing architects, planners, urban designers, geographers, and policy specialists—to steward initiatives that engage communities, create platforms to discuss challenges, set priorities, and envision the future, whilst elevating underheard voices to celebrate and concretize community identity and building capacity for residents to drive decision-making in the sphere of design and planning. We organize our work around six core methods: analyzing, mapping, activating, informing, storytelling, and making.
by Kari Spiegelhalter, Tess Ruswick, and Patricia Noto, ASLA Environmental Justice PPN Student Representatives
What is environmental justice? How does it relate to social justice, environmental racism, community health, and equitable design? As designers of places and cities, what is our responsibility to work towards greater equity? As students of landscape architecture, and the student representatives of the Environmental Justice PPN, we found that these questions that weren’t always being addressed in our coursework or studio projects in school. We had a hunch that other students felt the same way, so in spring of 2017, we attended LABash at the University of Maryland, the annual gathering of landscape architecture students from all over the country. Through surveys and conversations with students, we found that many students were concerned, if a bit confused, about environmental justice. Read more about our experiences at LABash in The Field article “Environmental Justice PPN Student Representatives At LABash.”
Students frequently interpreted design for environmental justice as ecological design rather than design that addresses the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on minorities and marginalized groups and the unequal distribution of and access to environmental benefits.
TheEnvironmental Justice PPN has kicked off 2018 by leading virtual conversations for members involved in, inspired by, and interested in pursuing environmental justice through education, research, and practice. In early February, the PPN hosted a virtual presentation and conversation on the Environmental Justice + Landscape Architecture: A Student’s Guide, developed by three MLA students from Cornell and RISD. Look for Tuesday’s Field post with more information on the first draft and how you can help shape the resources, case studies, and activities included in the guide!
On March 8, Viviana Franco, Executive Director of From Lot to Spot (FLTS), will be joining the PPN conversation on equitable community engagement. FLTS, based in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA, is a 501(c)(3) non-proﬁt organization founded in 2007 as a direct result of the relationship between lack of accessible green space and the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. FLTS’ unique approach involves grassroot, community engagement to ensure disadvantaged communities contribute their voice in developing healthy spaces in their neighborhoods. Viviana will be discussing her organization’s approach to providing equitable community engagement as well as some case studies where those principles have been applied.
Viviana Franco is the Executive Director of From Lot to Spot, based in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA. From Lot to Spot (FLTS) is a 501(c)(3) non-proﬁt organization founded in 2007 as a direct result of the relationship between lack of accessible green space and the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. FLTS’ unique approach involves grassroots, community engagement to ensure disadvantaged communities contribute their voice in developing healthy spaces in their neighborhoods. FLTS relies on landscape architects for assistance with design; however, it takes much more to allow a project to come to life. The following is the story of one project, the Heart of Watts Community Garden.
Sometimes constructing a greenspace—from planning to design to construction—can takes years and millions of dollars. And sometimes for large, regional projects this is warranted.
However, this lengthy and costly process in low-income communities who have already been neglected for so long or have been waiting decades for adequate access to parks or gardens can be disheartening and infuriating.
People tell us time and time again, “Well, that’s government,” as if we are supposed to accept that the sometimes bureaucratic system that breeds inefficiency is ok, and that we should just accept it in our line of business.
Well, we don’t.
We believe strongly in building small, community-driven, cost-effective greenspaces that can transform communities.
We want to tell the story of the Heart of Watts Community Garden, where a streamlined, cost-effective process to build a community-driven greenspace only helped to empower the community more. In urban, low-income communities of color greenspace is not only critical for community morale, but it boils down to social responsibility.
ASLA’s Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN) has taken on board two student representatives to help them reach out to students of landscape architecture about design for environmental justice. The PPN seeks to provide a forum to help landscape architects pursue the goal of designing spaces that promote the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens regardless of race, income, or other marginal status.
After establishing the PPN in 2015, founding co-chairs Kathleen King, Associate ASLA, and Julie Stevens, ASLA, wanted to educate current students of landscape architecture about environmental justice so they enter the profession with an understanding of how their designs increase or diminish environmental justices. They hope to empower future generations of landscape architects with the understanding to design safe, accessible, and healthy places for all. To do so, they established an Environmental Justice PPN Student Representative position to reach out to students of landscape architecture.
According to PPN Co-Chair Kathleen King, “There has been a great deal of interest in the student community for the EJ PPN and Julie and I wanted to find a way to connect with students. Students today will be in practice tomorrow—we think it’s important that they are engaged with these issues and understand the potential impact landscape architects can have on creating equitable communities. Kari and Patricia have demonstrated a passion for this topic and we’re thrilled that they will be spreading the word about the new PPN.”
PPN Live Session: Saturday, October 22, 9:15 – 10:00am, Jackson Square Meeting Room
Fall is in the air and the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO is just around the corner! Please join us for the second annual Environmental Justice (EJ) PPN meeting on Saturday, October 22 from 9:15 – 10:00am in the Jackson Square meeting room at PPN Live. We have been busy planning and networking since the inception of the EJ PPN less than two years ago and now we are looking forward to tackling some bigger agenda items.
At our first meeting, we created a list of EJ projects and people who are leading the charge to eliminate injustices in landscapes and communities around the world. This year, we invite you to engage in a conversation about environmental justice in landscape architecture. Do you have questions or topics that you’d like to share? If so, send them to Julie Stevens email@example.com. Additionally, we would like to know about your projects, so feel free to bring project profiles to share with the group. Suggested format is 2-4 letter or tabloid sized pages. Project profiles will be available throughout the conference in the PPN Live area.
Designing Equity was a recent forum facilitated by Toni L. Griffin. Convened jointly by The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Surdna Foundation, over 100 participants including architects, landscape architects, urban planners, community leaders, and funding agencies from across the country met for a day-long workshop in Washington, DC. The workshop combined case study presentations, large group discussions, and small-group activities all created to stimulate dialogue and bubble up unique opportunities moving forward. The following is Part II of the two-part series detailing presentations and dialogue during the forum. Part I was published on August 2, 2016.
Design at the Scale of Systemic Change
The final session attempted to offer lessons on scaling up our definitions of community to the City. Focusing on a case study in New York, Jerry Maldonado from the Ford Foundation moderated a panel consisting of participants engaged in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. The plan emerged as an opportunity to engage in Mayor DeBlassio’s borough-wide up-zoning process. Given the rate of growth and displacement across the city, a key community decision was to engage the process instead of resist through protest; this was a key decision point credited by all as a reason for successful engagement.
Sandra Youdelman from Community Voices Heard laid out in great detail the need for politically savvy actors to navigate the complex relationships within the community and between the community and the city. By introducing the language of “Power,” “Players,” and “Campaigns” (i.e. borrowing strategies for getting people engaged in political campaigns for a planning process), Ms. Youdelman illustrated the value of engaging a wide range of allies in the process. This was especially important to communicate because another participant was George Sarkissian from NYC Council ‘s Economic Development Division. Mr. Sarkissian made plain the political and economic risks and rewards for engaging a community in a contentious process, and praised the political savvy of the group.
Rapid change in diverse communities across the nation has prompted many to take stock of the roles designers and planners have played and could play in this period. Academically and professionally, many of us were drawn to our fields because of a shared passion for the power of design (and design thinking) to make positive transformations in the environments around us. However, with increasing diversity, we are often challenged with the need to better understand and more effectively work with people very different from ourselves. And concurrent with this has been the demand by diverse communities for designers and planners to acknowledge and address the inequitable gaps between different communities based on racial, class, and gender disparities. For decades, designers and planners have worked with communities to address these issues. But in the current social, political, and economic climate, what are best practices in community engaged design?
Designing Equity was a recent forum facilitated by Toni L. Griffin to tackle this and many other issues. Convened jointly by The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Surdna Foundation, over 100 participants including architects, landscape architects, urban planners, community leaders, and funding agencies from across the country met for a day-long workshop in Washington, DC. The workshop combined case study presentations, large group discussions, and small-group activities all created to stimulate dialogue and bubble up unique opportunities moving forward.
Partners in Justice! Join the Environmental Justice PPN members at our very first Annual Meeting this year in Chicago! The Environmental Justice PPN will be meeting Sunday, November 8 at 1:40-2:15pm in PPN Room 2 on the EXPO floor near ASLA Central. Please join us as we discuss initiatives and goals for 2016!
Environmental Justice Sessions The 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago offers a variety of learning opportunities for professionals interested in environmental justice. Be sure to check out the EJ education sessions at this year’s Annual Meeting:
Hyejung Chang is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Clemson University. She received a PhD in Design from North Carolina State University after completing an MLA at the University of Minnesota and a BSLA at the University of Seoul in South Korea. Hyejung has practiced in the US and South Korea. She is interested in landscape aesthetics and ethics as shared values to promote healthy communities and human well-being. We are happy to have Hyejung write the following article highlighting the importance for environmental justice.
– Julie Stevens, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
Justice forms an ideal of a democratic society, yet it becomes harder for designers to address in a contemporary environmental context. I propose an ethical framework with four guiding forces that are mutually supporting in theory, yet often confusing in practice: Democracy, Participation, Public Value, and Moral Obligation. The framework should help landscape architects be more decisive and effective in achieving justice through their work.