Landscape, since the 1960s has seen an evolution that hasn’t ever been seen before. Landscape Architecture in the early 1900s was limited to designing gardens and park-systems.

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“We are the bullies of the earth: strong, foul, coarse, greedy, careless, indifferent to others, laying waste as we proceed, leaving wounds, welts, lesions, suppurations on the earth body, increasingly engulfed by our own ordure and, finally, abysmally ignorant of the way the world works, crowing our superiority overall life.”

-Ian McHarg

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Landscape, since the 1960s has seen an evolution that hasn’t ever been seen before. Landscape Architecture in the early 1900s was limited to designing gardens and park-systems. It was commonly perceived as just an art form. But in the 1960s along with Ian McHarg and other ecologists, botanists, city planners and various other people from different disciplines explored the realms and scope of landscape architecture in regional/city planning. They aimed at bridging the gap between the two by taking up a scientific approach at studying the role of the environment in planning and managing the cities. The principles developed by Ian McHarg forms the basis of the theory of Landscape Urbanism.

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Landscape urbanism is largely the invention of Charles Waldheim, who also coined this term. The theory of Landscape Urbanism emerged from the necessity of cohesiveness between the field of urban design and landscape, which before were practiced separately. The need for a “New Urbanism” arose because the traditional urban design guidelines/principles weren’t able to cope up with the present situations and conditions of the cities. The automobile-based urbanization and inability of urban design principles to cope up with environmental conditions left in the wake of deindustrialization resulted in the emergence of ecologically informed urbanism.  

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Landscape urbanism addresses issues of economy, ecology, and the socio-urban context. It is a theory that argues the best way to organize cities is through the city’s landscape and environmental planning. Instead of traditional urbanism where designs revolved around roads, buildings, and green spaces were relegated to left-over areas unsuited for building or were used for ornamentation; landscape urbanism offers a fresh perspective for organizing urban form around the cultural and natural processes. 

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Brownfield Development has been considered one of the key features of Landscape Urbanism and the classic example of it is that of Fresh Kills in Staten Islands, New York. The project involves an area of 2200 acres (890 ha) that was formerly the largest landfill in the world, and is now being converted into a park over a span of 30 years. The project is a result of a design competition won by James Corner Field Organisations. It involves reclaiming toxic wetlands and lost biodiversity. The proposed park would be three times larger than Central Park which would include lots of amenities, activities, museums, etc. The Park would consist of five main areas including – Confluence, North Park, South Park, East Park, and West Park. The confluence at the center would be like a nucleus of the park. Each of the areas of the park will have characteristics in terms of their landscape, biodiversity, and recreational features. It would support rich diverse habitats and activities like camping, kayaking, hiking, etc.  

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Although it may seem that Landscape Urbanism has a complete negation of architecture or the built within the realms of urbanism, but over the years of its evolution, a certain parallel idea within the discipline has been strengthened to produce specific architectural forms derived through landscape forces and processes. The example of the High Line in Manhattan where an abandoned rail line weaving through 22 blocks in New York City was converted into a 6.7-acre (2.7ha) park. Advocated by the Friends of High-Line the project aimed to provide a green space for the neighborhood. The High Line’s design is a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead), Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. The project has linear walkways that blur the boundary between paved and planted surfaces while suggesting evolutions in human use plus plants and birds life. The project soon became a model for reclaiming abandoned urban territories that could be converted into community assets.  

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However, reclaiming abandoned spaces into beautiful parks comes with its own set of challenges. The High Line Park was meant to provide the local community with an asset, but instead, it became a tourist place and the property prices around the block increased that led to gentrification, displacing the residents to other affordable places. The green spaces in urban areas undoubtedly provide ecological services, improved health benefits, and increased social interactions, it at the same time leads to environmental injustice, where only the rich would afford access to green spaces. The environmental injustice usually happens in places where there is strong social injustice, as well as where the green spaces are marketed and advertised excessively. 

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The goal of landscape urbanism is to design and plan cities that involve ecological, economic, and equity sustainability. Ecological sustainability can be achieved by increasing the ecosystem services that can be defined as the benefits we receive from nature: resource, regulatory, support, and cultural services. The resource service includes food, water, and energy. The regulatory services provided by nature are water-purification, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, waste decomposition, etc. The support services are nutrient dispersal and cycling, seed dispersal, etc. The cultural services would include recreational experiences, eco-tourism, etc. The economical sustainability can be achieved by regulating the market prices around the green spaces, generating enough revenue to sustain and take up new projects, etc. The social/equity sustainability can be achieved by implementing social equality, where everyone has a right and ease of access to green spaces.

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References

Ian Mcharg. (n.d.). Retrieved from azquotes.com: https://www.azquotes.com/author/37488-Ian_McHarg

Paul, R. (n.d.). Landscape Urbanism – An Introduction. Retrieved from Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/2045163/Landscape_Urbanism_-_An_Introduction

Steiner, F. (2011). Landscape ecological urbanism: Origins and trajectories. Landscape and Urban Planning 100 (2011) 333–337, 333-337.

Waldheim, C. (2012). On Landscape, Ecology, and Other Modifiers to Urbanism. Landscape Urbanism Journal 02: Buzz or Noise?

Whiston Spirn, A. (n.d.). Ian McHarg, Landscape Architecture, and Environmentalism: Ideas and Methods in Context. Retrieved from WordPress.com: https://biodiversityislands.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/environmenalism.pdf

Wolch, J. R., Byrne, J., & Newell, J. P. (2104). Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice:The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough’.

Aayushi Sanghvi
Author

Aayushi Sanghvi, a young architect who extensively believes in the potential of research to make informed design decisions. She considers intellectual design dialogues as the stepping stones towards cognisant architecture. She is flexible, quick learner and an avid traveller; learning about new culture, people, spaces and expanding her horizon every-day.

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