- The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future
University of Pennsylvania, Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)
June 10–11, 2016
Fifty years ago, American rivers were on fire. It was an era of activism that provoked a response to rampant pollution and disregard for the natural environment. Sponsored by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), a small group of landscape architects and educators including Grady Clay, Charles R. Hammond, Campbell Miller, Ian McHarg, George E. Patton and John O. Simonds, gathered in Philadelphia in 1966 to write “A Declaration of Concern.” This declaration outlined issues, suggested agency, and proposed salutary strategies. The ambitious two-day 2016 Summit, also sponsored by the LAF, invited 70 established and emerging “leaders” to present proactive and creative declarations for the 21st century. LAF President Kona Gray noted that 300 attendees were expected and that 715 had registered. The New Landscape Declaration is scheduled to be ready for the World Design Summit in Montreal (IFLA Montreal, October 16–23, 2017).
Barbara Deutsch, Executive Director of LAF noted that in the U.S. there are 280,000 civil engineers, 105,000 architects, and 15,000 landscape architects. She traced the lineage of the age of engineers, followed by the age of architects, to the current age of landscape architecture. Throughout the Summit, numerous non-Americans commented that many countries are now in the situation that the U.S. was in 50 years ago. Deutsch cited China—where 40,000 landscape architect students are graduating every year—as a country that sees the discipline as part of the solution to the environmental problems resulting from rapid expansion. She called for research, research, and more research, noting that the LAF can help. Deutsch was followed on the opening day by 24 speakers presenting their own “Declaration”: a ten-minute statement of leadership and ideas for “how landscape architecture can make its vital contribution in response to the challenges of our time and the next 50 years.” It has to be noted that the majority of speakers were graduates of the Harvard GSD or associated with the University of Pennsylvania. There were a few outliers. This was a little Woodstock for big-name landscape architects.
Interestingly, many of the 2016 Declarations shared perspectives with the 1966 Declaration, which urged landscape architects to lead collaborative efforts to address environmental issues in the U.S. because unimpeded post-war development had reached a crisis point. Substitute post-industrial for post-war and global for the U.S., and the message is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. Consider these points from the 1966 document:
The solution of the environmental crisis demands the skills of many professions. So that the landscape architects may make their vital contribution, we propose a four-point program to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice: 1) recruitment, 2) education, 3) research and 4) a nationwide system for communicating the results of research, example and good practice. Its purpose is to multiply the effectiveness of the limited number of landscape architects, while producing more trained people to cope with the future environment.
Elizabeth Meyers (University of Virginia) provided a detailed account of the context for the 1966 Declaration, concluding that while small steps may have been taken to alleviate the outward signs of blighting the landscape in the 1960s, we now realize that global warming is a consequence of collective growth and prosperity. Meyers provided an engaging reminder of [End Page 90] the importance of interdisciplinary work and that our partners may be as diverse as American First Lady, Lady Byrd Johnson, to the marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson. Kelly Shannon (University of South Carolina) offered that the social activist, author and filmmaker Naomi Klein is our 21st century Rachel Carson. Shannon argued that every crisis provides opportunities for landscape architects, arguing that the status quo is unsustainable. Not surprisingly, her declaration included a strong call to engage with the political world.
Many speakers shared this message. Charles Birnbaum (The Cultural Landscape Foundation) advocated for landscape architects to play a larger role on city...