Posts Tagged ‘research’

Edel Rodriguez’s illustration from Rolling Stone

An article in the Sunday NY Times titled “We’re All Climate-Change Idiots” explores the well-worn territory of climate change denial, but it also adds a few details from psychological research into the phenomenon.  The article hints at four strategies:

1. appeal to interest in technological solutions – even climate change deniers perk up at the mention of techno fixes;

2. public health appeals seem to get traction (asthma, etc.);

3. instant feedback, like the letters I get from National Grid telling me how much energy I consume compared to my neighbors, that brings out a sense of competition for behavioral changes; and

4. making changes that people are hardly aware of – like Rutgers changing the default printing on university printers to double-sided.

Are there any landscape and/or land use parallels to these suggestions? I think we can come up with a few – but, frankly, it feels like tinkering around at the edges. I have a hard time investing mental energy into it, especially after just reading Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone. If you haven’t read it yet, you must. In “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” McKibben very simply communicates the enormity of the problem using just 3 numbers. Powerful writing, but the result is a feeling of powerlessness. Hum, what’s a person to do with that? Oh, yes, back to the denial stance! The liberal denial, that is. (See the four points listed above.)


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Image credit: personaldevelopmentplanning.pbworks.com

A 1992 article titled Wicked Problems in Design Thinking by Richard Buchanan in Design Issues journal is worth a fresh look, and, in fact, it continues to be cited by many authors. [A description and definition of wicked (and super wicked) problems can be found here.] I found the discussion of the communication gap between scientists and designers to be especially interesting.

Members of the scientific community, however, must be puzzled by the types of problems addressed by professional designers and by the patterns of reasoning they employ. While scientists share in the new liberal art of design thinking, they are also masters of specialized subject matters and their related methods, as found in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, the social sciences, or one of the many subfields into which these sciences have been divided. This creates one of the central problems of communication between scientists and designers, because the problems addressed by designers seldom fall solely within the boundaries of any one of these subject matters (pg. 14).

Buchanan then speculates that the heart of the problem is the indeterminate nature of the problems addressed by designers. In other words, design problems are wicked because they are indeterminate.

Design problems are “indeterminate” and “wicked” because design has no special subject matter of its own apart from what a designer perceives it to be. The subject matter of design is potentially universal in scope, because design thinking may be applied to any area of human experience. But in the process of application, the designer must discover or invent a particular subject out of the problems and issues of specific circumstances. This sharply contrasts with the disciplines of science, which are concerned with understanding the principles, laws, rules, or structures that are necessarily embodied in existing subject matters. Such subject matters are undetermined or under-determined, requiring further investigation to make them more fully determinate. But they are not radically indeterminate in a way directly comparable to that of design (pg.16).

Buchanan further explains:

design is fundamentally concerned with the particular, and there is no science of the particular.

In actual practice, the designer begins with what should be called a quasi-subject matter, tenuously existing within the problems and issues of specific circumstances. Out of the specific possibilities of a concrete situation, the designer must conceive a design that will lead to this or that particular product. A quasi-subject matter is not an undetermined subject waiting to be made determinate. It is an indeterminate subject waiting to be made specific and concrete (pg. 17).

Buchanan explains how designers deal with indeterminacy through his theory of “placements” – signs, things, and actions organized by unifying ideas or thoughts.

This is where placements take on special significance as tools of design thinking. They allow the designer to position and reposition the problems and issues at hand. Placements are the tools by which a designer intuitively or deliberately shapes a design situation, identifying the views of all participants, the issues which concern them, and the invention that will serve as a working hypothesis for exploration and development. In this sense, the placements selected by a designer are the same as what determinate subject matters are for the scientist. They are the quasi-subject matter of design thinking, from which the designer fashions a working hypothesis suited to special circumstances.

This helps to explain how design functions as an integrative discipline. By using placements, the designer establishes a principle of relevance for knowledge from the arts and sciences, determining how such knowledge may be useful to design thinking in a particular circumstance without immediately reducing design to one or another of these disciplines (pg. 17-18).

I am particularly interested in essays like this one that explore the relationship between design and the sciences – natural, physical, and social. Landscape architecture academics often find themselves having to prove the value of design thinking in relation to the scientific disciplines that dominate university campuses. Explication of the unique role of design and its relationship to other disciplines aids this process. But, Buchanan’s work is just one perspective. Do any challenges to his stance come to mind? Or thoughts that expand on his work? Feel free to comment by following the link.

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One blogger, Caroline Tucker, analyzed keywords from 4000 randomly selected articles published in 2011 and summarized her findings in The EEB and Flow blog. Among her conclusions is that “community ecology” is on the upswing. The keyword word cloud that she produced is found below.

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Zombies? Well, you’ll have to read past the break for those! Until then, some rather dry … that is, critically important … discussion of research in landscape architecture.  : )

Practitioners in the academy are often an awkward fit. Professional education (e.g., landscape architecture) sits alongside natural science, social science, and humanities disciplines in university settings, and yet the culture of academic programs in the professions can differ sharply from the rest of the campus. Longer hours spent in studio classes, more time spent on outreach/service to communities, and research focused on applied problems are typical differences for faculty in professional design programs. Research productivity differences between practice-oriented faculty and faculty in other academic disciplines can be significant. On university campuses across the U.S., there is increasing demand by administrators for greater research output by all academic units, and these demands have created consternation in some landscape architecture circles. How do we maintain the traditional culture of professional education in landscape architecture and also begin to resemble more our research colleagues in natural science, social science, or the humanities?

The answer for some landscape architecture academics has been to adopt the research strategies of either natural science, social science, or the humanities, in some cases aided by Ph.D.s in a traditional research discipline. Urban and regional planning programs are largely populated with Ph.D.s in political science, economics, and other social sciences (usually with a lawyer thrown in for good measure), but with few faculty who have ever practiced planning. Could that be the future of landscape architecture education too?  Some clues to another possible future after the break. (more…)

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It’s not your everyday, run of the mill design problem. But it is an everyday reality – cows produce significant amounts of the greenhouse gas (GHG), methane, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are therefore point sources of GHG pollution. There are arguments for ending the CAFO practice, but these controversial land uses appear to be with us for the foreseeable future anyway. Can the impacts be mitigated? Can agroforestry techniques be used to mitigate the emissions, and, if you plant a lot of trees, do you still have enough open land to maintain farm functionality? These are the questions asked by the ESF graduate student, Au Ta, in his capstone project, supervised by Dayton Reuter and me. His study produced some very interesting results.

Forested buffer alternatives were tested

Graduate students in landscape architecture programs sometimes produce studies that are worthy of peer-reviewed publication, but these projects often remain hidden in their respective departments. As a discipline, we need to move toward the expectation that this work will be published, either in traditional print media or through online journals. Our colleagues in other disciplines would not squander these resources! Like many LA graduate theses and capstones, Au’s project was not designed from the outset to be a carefully controlled study, but instead evolved over time into something interesting, thought-provoking, and not necessarily easy to publish in science journals because of the degree of intuitive design involved. But the project is well-crafted and reaches some surprising conclusions. Click continue reading to read the abstract and get a link to the entire paper. (more…)

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Just ran across a 2007 paper that the authors claim “produces the first large-scale estimates of the US health related welfare costs due to climate change.” The authors are the economists Olivier Deschenes from UC Santa Barbara and Michael Greenstone from MIT. (Greenstone is the former chief economist with the Council of Economic Advisors in the first year of the Obama administration.) The study looks at the costs of an individual’s adaptation to climate change – things like taking medication to offset air pollution or increasing air conditioner usage to cope with high temperatures. This finding stood out:

Individuals are likely to respond to higher temperatures by increasing air conditioning usage; the analysis suggests that climate change will lead to
increases in annual residential energy consumption of up to 32% by the end of the century.

When petroleum costs began to rise and supply was threatened by the Iraq War, research into alternative energy was suddenly thrust into high gear after a few decades of relative inactivity. Just in the last 10 years, 70s era research was rediscovered and used to further our current interests in alternative energy. It’s time for landscape planners and landscape architects to re-engage with our equivalent research – the 70s era “design with climate” research that was conducted as a response to the energy crisis of that time. Among the climate adaptation needs it could serve is residential energy consumption.

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Just too much depressing news (on many fronts) to keep up the optimism (see here and here for therapist reference). I try hard to not focus on the bad news too much, but I can’t ignore it either. The latest in a post by Richard Black of BBC News, discussing the woeful inadequacies of our network of conservation areas (i.e., protected lands and waters) for protecting biodiversity with this quote from Peter Sale of the Canadian Institute for Water, Health, and the Environment:

“We’re talking about losing 50% of species in the next half century – that’s faster than any previous mass extinction event – and anybody who thinks we can go through a mass extinction and be perfectly fine is just deluding themselves.”

The article, published this month, that prompted the post by Black is this one:

Mora, C. and P.F. Sale. 2011. Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas: A review of the technical and practical shortcomings of protected areas on land and sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 434: 251-266.

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