Nature-Based Solutions Design for Justice

by Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP

Nature-based solutions are strategies that integrate ecosystem functions to serve societal needs and ecosystems benefits. / image: Chingwen Cheng

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.

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In Case You Missed It: Environmental Justice PPN at ASLA San Diego

by Tom Martin, Associate ASLA, and Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA

The 2019 Environmental Justice PPN Meeting
Tom Martin and Chingwen Cheng present at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture / image: 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.

Investigate!

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.

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Environmental Justice Survey Findings

by Chingwen Cheng, PhD, ASLA, and Tom Martin, Associate ASLA

A Student's Guide to Environmental Justice Version 1.3
ASLA 2018 Student Communications Honor Award. A Student’s Guide to Environmental Justice Version 1.3. Kari Spiegelhalter, Student ASLA; Patricia Noto, Student ASLA; Tess Ruswick, Student ASLA | Faculty Advisors: Joshua F. Cerra, ASLA / image: Roane Hopkins

The mission of the ASLA Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (EJ PPN) is to provide a forum for ASLA members involved in, inspired by, and interested in pursuing environmental justice through education, research, and practice.

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.

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