by Thomas Schurch, ASLA, PLA
Landscape architecture has remarkable bona fides in the practice of urban design, and practitioners and students of landscape architecture continuously embrace this important dimension of the profession. Recognition of this fact is reflected in the ASLA’s recent adoption of urban design as a separate category in the national awards program for practitioners and students. Of course, urban design is a competitive endeavor in the greater environmental planning and design community, and landscape architecture—while offering much regarding urban form in the twenty-first century—is a relatively small profession.
However, a compelling case can be made that of the three professions sharing urban design “ownership,” landscape architecture has the most to offer in our emerging “green century.” In this respect, the range of urban design the profession engages in is enormous and can be the subject of a separate article. Nevertheless, one significant example of this range is the focus of this post, and comes under different and somewhat synonymous headings, e.g., urban villages, neighborhood design, new towns, community design, and what Kevin Lynch referred to as “city design.”
This discussion would be incomplete without considering New Urbanism. With its emergence 35 years ago, and subsequent growth and development, landscape architecture’s longstanding contributions predating New Urbanism are diminished and underappreciated. Moreover, recent history demonstrates that design of communities is often being relinquished to others, particularly our colleagues in architecture.
New Urbanism deserves credit for fostering a discourse at a critical juncture of human settlement. Questions of urban quality of life vis-a-vis numerous post-World War II developments are at the heart of this conversation, including attention to sprawl, monotonous and homogeneous housing developments, outmoded zoning ordinances, automobile dependence and problems associated with traffic engineering, loss of a sense of community, tower housing, “big box” retail, etc.