ASLA: Climate Action Now

an open letter from landscape architecture students

Open Letter

To: Shawn T. Kelly, President of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), President-Elect Wendy Miller, the ASLA Executive Committee, and the ASLA Board of Trustees

 

We are living through a climate crisis. This crisis has grown out of a socio-economic system that depends on the intensive extraction of the Earth’s resources, ultimately driving our planet’s life-support systems to their limits. Furthermore, we recognize that ecological breakdown and global inequality are symptoms of the same process; environmental degradation greatly overburdens those with less money, power, and resources. Although we recognize that the threat of climate change and the damage it inflicts are certainly invoked within our profession, we are concerned with how these words are acted upon. As design students deeply invested in the future of the world’s landscapes and their ability to sustain life, we have come together from across the United States to call on the ASLA to strengthen its commitment to addressing the most serious challenge of our times. While we applaud the ASLA’s recent efforts to support climate change resiliency through the Blue Ribbon Panel, we believe that now is the time for the profession to do more: to take actionable measures that follow in the footsteps of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s recent New Landscape Declaration as well as the ASLA’s own Code of Environmental Ethics, conference proceedings, publications, and internal communications. This is not a time to be apolitical or to bargain for minimal gains. This is a time to work toward a bold vision for the future of our planet.

We ask that the ASLA:

1. Endorse and Help Define the Green New Deal

We call on the ASLA to join the conversation around the Green New Deal and to advocate for the centrality of landscape architecture to its very definition. We cannot claim to take on resiliency and mitigation as a central mission without joining this key conversation. The Green New Deal offers an incredible opportunity for landscape architecture to express its values on a national legislative stage, and the legislation’s bold charges leave room for all professions to come to the table to help give it form and make it actionable. Together we should step up and call for the mobilization of public resources to transition from an economy built on exploitation to one built on dignified work and clean energy for all. The history of landscape architecture demonstrates the discipline’s long advocacy for robust public assets that ensure environmental justice, from Olmsted onward. We must reassert landscape’s ability to influence our understanding of nature’s relationship to society in this crucial political moment.

 

2. Assert Our Commitment to the Public Realm 

At a time when the public realm is suffering from considerable disinvestment, the ASLA must affirm the values of social justice and public dialogue. We must actively stand against development practices that further socioeconomic inequity, such as gentrification, greenwashing, and resource consumption. Building toward this future means making hard choices: it means collectively refusing work that goes against these principles as well as promoting work that is in line with this vision. Making these decisions requires an awareness of existing policy and the power of advocacy. In order to have a seat at the tables where these conversations are taking place, landscape architects require the ASLA to advocate and be actively engaged in policy change. 

 

3. Advocate for Climate Science in Curricula and Licensure

The ASLA is in a powerful position to influence how landscape architecture is taught and practiced. In order to maintain professional credibility, we need to be able to articulate how climate change affects the landscape; we must speak effectively to massive biodiversity loss as well as political and economic stresses on conservation, rehabilitation and restoration of lands, species displacement, and increasing social inequity. While this knowledge enters curricula in ad hoc ways, dedicated coursework on climate change taught by scientists and policy professionals is not yet an explicit requirement of academic programs. As licensed professionals, our mandate to create safe environments for the public demands an understanding of how climate change will alter our communities and how we must aim to do no further environmental harm. Armed with this knowledge, we can have a voice when making crucial decisions about the future of the built environment.

By giving a strong voice to design’s role in the climate crisis, the ASLA can do more than stand for the future of landscape architecture; it can stand for the future of life in all its diversity. A publicly stated commitment to this issue, changes to core pedagogy and practice, and political advocacy are crucial first steps in this effort. 

This is just the beginning. Let us be strong partners in this fight. 

 Signed in solidarity,

A Collective of Landscape Architecture Students of the United States

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