Grounding Landscape Urbanism… your definition.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Grounding Landscape Urbanism… your definition.

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    Andrew Pringle

    I’m currently writing my dissertation part of the abstract is as follows…


    Over the last decade many new theories and ideas on how to sustainably develop our urban areas have emerged. Landscape urbanism in particular has been at the forefront of this and has become a topic of great discussion and debate, but surprisingly it has remained broadly as theory and very little physical work has been realised under this new approach. Part of the problem seems to be the vast amount of different and varied theories surrounding the topic often confusing the issue and no one clear definition of Landscape Urbanism exists. Therefore this often making it difficult to progress and make the jump from the theoretical to the physical without such a clear structure to follow.

    So I ask the question what exactly is landscape urbanism?


    The first part of my research will be inductive, where I gather as many current definitions of ‘Landscape Urbanism’ from as many different people and sources as possible, (this is where you come in!) this in order to create a lexicon that will be tested and applied to three different case studies. 

    I would greatly appriciate your own definition and perception of the topic to assist in this,

    I hope you can help.


    My totally blind interpretation of ‘landscape urbanism’ is the integration of ecological systems and natural features in the design and planning of communties–letting landscape drive the organization of habitable space, both public and private.

    I might argue that this is precisely what landscape architects have been trying to do for decades,however somewhat unsuccessfully, particularly with residential subdivision planning.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Well said Ace…

    Andrew, this is the #2 google hit for “landscape urbanism”. I don’t know if you can use this in your dissertation or not but it might help you develop “the vocabulary” of your thesis:

    In all seriousness, I rather like wikepedia’s definition: “Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience.” It makes sense to me, seeing as nature is a self organizing system, that the existing landscape should dictate form rather than human desires. Natural systems work perfectly until we get involved. For instance, rivers meander and change course at will, occasionally purging the system of silt and debris during major flood events. Humans decide that those floods are a real nuisance and that land values are more important than systems that have existed since the dawn of time (the land doesn’t disappear, it just gets deposited somewhere else.. “but I paid for that land!!”) We line the river banks with rip rap, eliminating the canopy, thereby increasing evaporation and water temperatures while decreasing oxygen. We also build dams to control flooding and to provide us with electricity. These ultimately destroy the ecology of the river… fish, habitat, plants, animals associated with the river system are wiped out. Oh, and we also like to use rivers to get rid of our storm water, sewage and industrial waste…

    Rivers are our life-line but we disregard them as tools to accomplish our short-sighted goals. If we destroy the health of our waterways, we destroy ourselves. It’s human nature to want to build right up to the banks of the river. Who wants to walk far to get their water!? We are now in a place in time where we have the technology to understand these important systems and to give them the space they need to function properly. We no longer have to walk for our water and through GIS we can better understand, respect and plan for the course the river wants to take…

    Andrew Pringle

    Thanks guys, both comments are helpful.

    Thomas, I had seen that site before, its pretty funny, it sort of sums up the problem with the topic.

    Thanks again

    david maynes

    check out STA Pickett et al.
    lots of research regarding urban ecology/systems
    Here’s a particularly good paper:

    IMO, if you want to understand how to implement theories of LU, you have to understand the systems and their interaction. Good luck!

    Thomas J. Johnson

    The term “cities of resilience” sounds as if it’s the “man vs nature” school of thought dating back to Genesis. Why not use a term like “adaptive cities” or “considerate cities” or “cities of mindful modification”? While there were some great sources sited, and I found those excerpts to be the most informative, I’m not sure what one is supposed to take away from the paper itself… maybe it was too broad for my taste. It seemed that the whole point of the paper was to sell the idea that everyone should rally around the term “cities of resilience” and that term will unite the various disciplines of LU (urban designers, sociologist and ecologists). It comes across as an ego driven solution (we have the terminology to lead the way) that I’m not sure is a solution at all. Yes, the professions of LU need to use a common vocabulary but “cities of resilience” is not going to be the keystone…

    I don’t know why it’s so complicated… OK, first of all, very little “ecology” is going to exist in a 99% compacted environment. So that leaves us with green roofs and open space. Cities tend to develop around water (drinking/transportation). Cities also tend to destroy the very aquatic systems they rely on by building too close to them, dumping waste into them and modifying them to prevent flooding and erosion. Solution: give the water ways some damn space (not dam space). By giving waterways large buffers (1/2mi+) you naturally create parks, non-motorized transportation corridors and aquatic-terrestrial transitions that filter/process urban run-off. In my humble opinion that is the single greatest thing you could do for “urban ecology”.

    Water is the big picture… then you can zoom in and integrate other open space into the city, address site specific storm water issues, decrease heatsinks, refine transportation systems, etc. etc. If a city’s water is not healthy, the city won’t be healthy.

    Landscape Urbanism is a contradiction of terms. Humans destroy habitat. That’s what we do. We need to minimize our impacts on the environment and create a higher quality of life in our cities but I doubt anybody would propose turning NY, Chicago or SF back into the swamps, er, excuse me, wetlands, from which they came. In the purest of ecological pursuits, that’s what we’d do… That is not realistic, nor desirable, so what’s the objective? What’s the goal? How do we measure the health of our cities?

    Water. If a cities water ways are healthy, there is a good chance the city is healthy. If the water ways are not capable of supporting life, it is doubtful the city is either… no matter how resilient it is…

    Jason T. Radice

    Like so much else that comes from the world of theory, it’s a buzzword. An arbitrary phrase create by someone in academia that simplifies a complex, and often undefinable idea. Environment, “green”, then ecological, new urbanism , and finally smart growth, are all examples of catch-all phrases that meant something once but that gradually lost favor as their theories are either disproven, or the effectiveness of the phrase wears off. All too often, these phrases become coopted by other professions or similar design ideas and the original intent is lost. Then you have to create a new phrase. From what I understand, this started at the GSD, which proves my point. Its another fad that will run its course in 10 years.

    Andrew Pringle

    Thanks again for your comments, they are all valid.

    You make an interesting point Jason, sometimes its easy to become short sighted and a potentially a bit carried away when a ‘new’ topic arises. As I see it theres almost two sides to theories such as LU the somewhat confused branding and defining of a topic which is not yet fully understood therefore we strive to fit it in a box to make it understandable and the other side the actual ideologies behind such topics which I feel show a lot of promise regardless of the branding.

    Trace One

    I am with Jason on this – ‘landscape urbanism..” ? What sort of gobbledygook is that? how about urbane landscapism – the use of thatched hair in very svelte and fashionable figures..
    It’s a silly portmanteau of ideas, and not worth pursuing unless you want to become a vacuous academic..

    I will never forget reading one of my high school classmates papers, published by Yale, she teaches at one of the Ivy Leagues now, and the topic was ghostliness and ‘the other’ .It was certainly a safe topic, since it was impossible to contradict anything… I finally decided it was completelly meaningless upon reading about an ‘infant bird’ in her paper..

    Good infant bird..If you can’t say baby bird, forget it!!!
    Go back to Strunk and White..Simplify, simple sentences..
    Landscape Urbanism ..Is that Keith Urban?
    Very silly..Opaque, and therefor not good..

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Are you saying that The GSD is a fad or that the terminology coming out of the program is a fad? I’m fine with the term landscape urbanism. It’s all of the “soft”, wordy, dribble that loosely defines the term that I take issue with. It’s as good as saying nothing at all, which actually, might be better.

    It seems that many of these buzz words are attempts to stay relevant. You see the same thing happen in consumer goods. Companies slightly tweak an aspect of a product (color, shape, material) and give it a flashy new name. The product is essentially the same.

    Once you’ve been in an industry for a while, you catch on. I saw this phenomenon happen year after year in the bicycle industry. It seems that many of us in L.A. are hip to the idea that many of the terms we use are just rebranding. My thought or question is; How effective is this approach when applied to landscape architecture? Does it gain new “consumers” or are we hurting ourselves? In a profession that is supposed to embrace long-range thinking, is it in our best interest to be constantly reinventing the wheel? It seems to me, that we may actually be losing credibility and further fragmenting the profession by creating a new “image” for ourselves every few years.

    What do you think the chances are, that we could develop a succinct mission statement or “jingle” that would represent and guide the profession? Something like, Landscape Architecture: Designing spaces for people and the planet. Landscape Architecture: The art and science of place. Landscape Architecture: It’s everywhere you look. Landscape Architecture: Step outside, into a new world.

    OK, I’m starting to get pretty out there… but you get the idea. I could even see billboards created with these slogans, with great Land Arch images and ASLA contact info “Find your local Landscape Architect at or 1-800-Land-Arch… Why are we not seeing anything like this from the ASLA in major metropolitan areas?

    Trace One

    I am saying that I am not fine with ‘landscape urbanism”..I means nothing, it has no immediate relevance, and reminds me of the democrats tring to stand up the the republican branding machine – the republicans say ‘man up’ and the dems are flatfooted and try to talk policy..
    Landscape urbanism is to me a meaningless opaque portmanteau of words.

    Lets try to ‘man up’!

    And to have someone do a dissertation on ‘landscape urbanism’? Good god, like we need that..I need to know how to plant a highway using no water at all, with sandy soils, ten inches of rain a year, and a tradition of deodar cedars and the ‘oasis’ in the desert to fight..the tradition of ‘layered plantings..’ GACK!!

    Landscape urbanism is not a bad concept, it is just bad writing..

    Trace One

    and I have to add, how or why is landscape urbanism’ different that Landscape Architecture, as it has been practiced for 100 years, with some very gorgeous examples..How is it different than landscape architecture in any way, as Nick Aceto pointed out?

    why do we need these words at all?

    Fairly annoying – sort of like ‘meme’ – everything is a ‘meme”…Actually ‘meme’ is almost over..
    Words for people who must talk.
    McHarg learned landscape from his father taking him to a bluff in Scotland and saying nothing..

    “What do you read, my lord?
    Words, words, words..”

    Better to study how to combat the Barry Lopez theory that ancient cultures treated the earth as “I – Thou”, while we are all “I – mine”..
    How can we get back to “I – Thou”, in preceiving our place in the world..There is only “I-mine”, in human societies today..

    Thomas J. Johnson

    T1 – You guys have some of the best highway medians / plantings in Southern California! I’ve never seen the two color aggregate, separated into flowing designs, used anywhere else. They are beautiful and sparsly planted… Maybe the few I’ve seen (on the 5 or15? can’t remember) are the only ones around and it’s more difficult to do that kind of thing elsewhere but it’ seems like a good precedent.

    Jason T. Radice

    lets use another overused phrase to describe it…jumped the shark. Yes, even “jumped the shark” has, well, jumped the shark.

    Trace One

    Thanks, Thomas, but that is not where I live..I am in the central valley..

    I just came back to edit previous comment – Barry Lopez saw native cultures as treating nature as I- thou, and we treat it as I- it, NOT “I – me”, as I wrote…We see nature as all “I- it.” But all cultures thoughout time say nature as “I – Thou” , with great respect, an actor with us, on stage..
    I’m off..sorry to bleb totally self-indulgently..

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