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.
Environmental justice requires that landscapes be designed through processes that are fair, and in forms that are fair. Without fairness there can be no peace, because we have the responsibility both to obey just laws and to disobey unjust ones. Civil disobedience and destructive revolt follow injustice. Without fairness we can never achieve lasting beauty, except in isolated pockets of exclusive affluence. For these reasons and more, our profession must courageously champion fair landscapes for all, not just a few, Americans.
The form of the landscape contributes to racial, economic, gender, and age segregation and discrimination. Half a century ago, freeway construction and urban renewal, nicknamed “Negro Removal,” destroyed neighborhoods and uprooted primarily African American and poor people. This land was then used to serve wealthier citizens. This exploitation met violent resistance, and over time the injustices became less blatant, but justice and formal ordering of the landscape remain at odds. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concluded that the problem that persists is that many Americans are more devoted to order than to justice. Today, three formal considerations are directly related to fairness: inaccessibility, exclusion, and unequal distribution of resources and amenities.
On March 18, 2015, the ASLA Executive Committee approved the new Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN). We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for the establishment of this group and look forward to working with you to integrate issues of environmental justice into the education and professional practice of landscape architecture.
ASLA members are welcome to join the new PPN by contacting ASLA Membership Services at firstname.lastname@example.org 888-999-ASLA.
Mission Statement and Goals
Environmental Justice is a topic of great concern for the profession and while we have many examples of environmental justice in practice, it is not an integral part of every project. A few decades ago we aspired to make sustainability a fundamental part of every landscape project; today we have the same aspirations and hope that future generations will intuitively design with keen sensibilities and sensitivities for all people in all landscapes.
The mission of the Environmental Justice PPN is to provide a forum for ASLA members involved in environmental justice. We have big aspirations for this group and will be working to accomplish some major goals:
Create a network of knowledgeable landscape architecture professionals involved in, inspired by, and interested in pursuing environmental justice through education, research, and practice.
Collect, compile, advance, and disseminate state-of-the-art information and research related to environmental justice practices.
Provide assistance as needed to support and inform ASLA programs and policies on issues related to environmental justice.
Support initiatives, programs, and mentoring opportunities that expose underserved student populations to landscape architecture career options and help achieve full representation of perspectives in the profession’s work.
Encourage members to develop Online Learning presentations, submit proposals for ASLA Annual Meeting education sessions, submit projects for design awards, and post content through The Field.
Encourage members to work with allied professionals to develop resources for environmental justice.