The Sterling Community in Greenville, South Carolina, is a significant, legacy Black neighborhood in the Southeast. With its remarkable emergence in the 1890s through establishment of a high school for young Black Americans by Reverend Daniele Melton Minus, a tradition for education and excellence was begun. The son of former slaves, Reverend Minus was supported by philanthropist Mrs. E.R. Sterling, for whom the school and later the neighborhood were named. Sterling High School was ultimately adopted by the public school system, a new and prominent building was built, and it became a center of educational, social, and spiritual life in the community and neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s significance in the Civil Rights Movement during and prior to the 1960s and beyond is particularly noteworthy, as partially evidenced by the prominence of Jesse Jackson, who was raised there. In 1967, at a time of integration, Sterling High School was mysteriously burned to the ground—a great loss for the community. With organized efforts within the Movement, Sterling High School’s student body implored the Greenville County School Board to maintain the school’s integrity. It remained a viable institution until 1970, when integration was fully implemented.
In intervening years, outmigration of residents, subsequent neighborhood decline, and recent gentrification of surrounding areas did not diminish Sterling’s place in history as a center of African American life and vitality—a tribute to its legacy and importance. The Sterling Community Trust, formed by Sterling High School graduates in partnership with the City of Greenville, the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA), and the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, represented a broad coalition for neighborhood revitalization.
The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Honors and Awards Advisory Committee has crossed an important threshold for the profession by recently acting to add urban design as an awards category for submissions of suitable work by professionals and students of landscape architecture. This necessary and welcome development commences with the 2020 ASLA awards program, which is now open for entries, and will allow our colleagues in practice and education to demonstrate to the world landscape architecture’s unique capabilities in the 21st century’s growing and rapidly changing urban realm.
In implementing this change, the ASLA Honors and Awards Advisory Committee—in partnership with the Urban Design Professional Practice Network (PPN)—concluded that in our era of urbanization the great work done by landscape architects in enhancing urban environments is deserving of focused recognition. And, of course, landscape architecture’s shaping of urban form reflects not only recent professional practice, but dates to the earliest days of the profession. This significant addition to the national awards program gives ASLA members the opportunity to be credited for outstanding work concerning urban design, urban form, and meaningful place within an urban context while implicitly reminding us of our design legacy.
Therefore, it’s not a matter of urban design being new to landscape architecture, but to underscore the profession’s ability to shape growing urban environments in the 21st century, continuing a longstanding contribution towards truly dynamic and meaningful outcomes in which quality of life, sustainability, and ecological resilience are paramount. It is largely for this reason that landscape architecture came to the fore in the 19th century, given the needs of the time. And currently, when compared with the allied professions of architecture and urban planning, whose professional associations—along with the Urban Land Institute and Congress for the New Urbanism—already identify urban design for award recognition, one can say that the needs today are more demanding and challenging than ever.