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Archive for June, 2011

If you have followed active living research over the past few years, you are very familiar with maps that track the incidence of obesity in this country. Today, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones calls this “the map of the day”. It looks very familiar, but the message is still appalling. These are rural Southern and Midwestern counties, for the most part, where obesity rates are high. As stated in the Population Health Metrics article, decline of life expectancy in a developed nation is rare.

Population Health Metrics journal, Kulkarni et al. 2011

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What do you do with the relentless stream of bad environmental news? The local newspaper today featured an angry reader comment that said we’d better enjoy the little time we have left in response to what is possibly the most significant environmental news of the week, the release of an IUCN report and UN presentation today on the dire condition of the world’s oceans. So, what do you do with information like this? Compartmentalize it? Use it as fuel for action? Feed depression? What? Does it feel like a disconnect to visit and enjoy some beautiful, “natural” landscape and then think that we’re on the verge of catastrophe?

Can designers be pessimists? Personally, I think we have to remain optimistic to act and to design. In teaching about the relationship between ecological science and design, I choose not to dwell on depressing information, but instead to focus on what positive actions are possible. Young people today have heard since childhood that the earth is on life support and that they were going to be the ones responsible for fixing it. That is an overwhelming message. At some point, the bad news becomes so great that action seems futile. The challenge is to acknowledge the bad news, but still see a way out, actions that you personally can undertake to make a difference. Designers, in particular, have much to offer, as they can often see potential where others cannot, and they can help others visualize new states of being, alternative realities. That’s a powerful response to otherwise overwhelming distress.

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Are cities really looking around for elevated structures to turn into their own versions of the High Line? Apparently Philadelphia is considering it.

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One of my favorite stories about discovering the profession of landscape architecture comes from the autobiography of Ian McHarg (A Quest For Life, 1996). I am reminded of this story when I read about some landscape urbanist proposals. First, the story, and, later, an explanation of what it might have in common with landscape urbanism.

For several years now, I have asked students in my classes if they have heard of McHarg. Routinely, in a class of 40 ro 50, one or two hands go up. For a quick introduction, I refer them to the classic book, Design With Nature, and often – even though I hate to use them – one of the obits written after his death in 2001, like this one from the NY Times. Wikipedia is always a choice too. McHarg was born in Scotland in 1920. At the age of 16, he spoke with a career counselor who suggested that he might try landscape architecture. It still amazes me that this happened in Scotland in 1936. McHarg tells the story (pp. 21-22):

Then he said, “Have you ever considered landscape architecture?” I had never heard of it. “I have a friend who is a landscape architect,” he said. “His name is Donald Wintersgill. I will arrange to have you meet him.” (more…)

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Ever since the Boston Globe published an article on the “smackdown” between Landscape Urbanism and New Urbanism in January, landscape urbanism and Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Chair, architect and urban theorist Charles Waldheim, have been the subject of a surprising amount of national news coverage. Nothing like a good fight, I suppose. The latest installment is Waldheim’s plenary address to the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting (CNU 19) earlier this month. Waldheim was interviewed by Duany at the end of his talk, and the video has just been released. Waldheim’s introduction is at the 27-minute mark, and he speaks for 50 minutes.

Where this takes landscape architecture is an open question. It is interesting to see how news organizations portray landscape architecture when they discuss landscape urbanism. Waldheim has been the Chair at Harvard since July of 2009, so landscape architecture does get mentioned in that context, but the emphasis is on architecture. I cringed when I read this paragraph in the now notorious Boston Globe article:

As the New Urbanism was growing in influence, another movement concerned with city-making was quietly beginning in an unlikely corner of the academy: landscape architecture. The field had spent most of the 20th century being seen as something of a backwater, an ornamental craft whose practitioners were responsible for making things pretty once the work of designing buildings was complete. But landscape architects had expertise in something that most planners and urban designers were not trained to think about: ecology. Starting at the University of Pennsylvania in the ’80s, landscape architects started to argue that their training meant they shouldn’t just be consigned to “putting parsley on the pig,” in the words of Australian landscape urbanist Richard Weller.

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In February 2011, Fast Company featured a blog post by entrepreneurship educator, Steve Blank, titled College and Business Will Never Be the Same.  The essence of the post: interdisciplinary education that includes design thinking is urgently needed in a “volatile, complex, and ambiguous world,” and most current educational models are inadequate for the task. His examples of better approaches were from design education – Stanford’s D-School (a graduate program) and Philadelphia University’s new undergraduate degree in Design, Engineering, and Commerce.

Blank’s post was a reaction to a question that has been in educators’ minds for some time now – a question perhaps best articulated by Colorado educator, Karl Fisch in a 2006 ppt-gone-viral video called Did You Know? Shift Happens. Originally prepared for fellow teachers in his Colorado high school, Fisch identifies some of the rapid changes occurring in the world. In the video, Fisch states “We  are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, [where they will use] technologies that haven’t yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” How do we do that? What should education in a period of rapid change look like?

The Silo Model

In the Fast Company article, Blank suggests we think about the model presented by the Philadelphia University program as one response. The graphics used by Blank depict the old silo model and the new, interdisciplinary model. The business world has a lot of things to say about all of this, by the way, including talk of the need for T-shaped people, or perhaps I-shaped people, to spur innovation in companies.

The Philadelphia Model

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Two dots, anyway. One dot concerns general workforce needs. 3 basic skills needed in a knowledge economy, according to Tony Wagner, Harvard education expert and author of The Global Achievement Gap, summarized in a NY Times column (Nov. 21, 2010) by Thomas Friedman: “the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.” This is good news for landscape architecture because the studio model of instruction does this – or at least it has the potential to do this. Can the studio model be pushed further to do this better?

Another dot concerns present opportunities for landscape architects – opportunities that are perhaps unique to the present moment. An unusual source for this dot – a YouTube video from the Future of Design conference held at Taubman College, University of Michigan in late 2009. It’s unusual because conference organizers videotaped the tables of conference attendees during a small group discussion session and posted the videos online. And it is unusual because the attendees are architects talking about landscape architecture. I think it’s helpful to see how others view us, especially those in allied fields. (Presumably, the people speaking in the video are architecture faculty members – if you recognize them, let me know.)  Some lines that caught my attention: (more…)

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Where is this blog headed? Continue reading to find out. (more…)

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In the comment section of this post on whether the economy and jobs should affect landscape architecture education (i.e., lead to changes in curricula or program emphasis), Chris asks who should sound the call for change and mentions professional organizations and clients as possibilities. While not a total laissez-faire believer, I do have a healthy respect for market forces. Market forces in higher education originate with students who have interests in particular subjects and perhaps a sense of demand for a certain set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. For many subjects taught at universities, there is no need for a connection to jobs (regardless of the often-stated college degree = job connection). (more…)

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More he said-she said reporting on climate, or timidity – “cause disputed,” but severe weather is obvious. According to Dr. Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “Records are not just broken, they are smashed. It is as clear a warning as we are going to get about prospects for the future.”

Scientists See More Deadly Weather, but Dispute the Cause – NYTimes.com.

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