Mapping the Crisis
The world’s first modern atlas emerged in 1570. Nearly 450 years later, Professor Richard Weller, chair of Landscape Architecture at University of Pennsylvania, and his team produced “Atlas for the End of the World”. Atlas for the End of the World uses cartology (mapmaking) to show the world’s situations in the context of issues faced by humanity in the 21st century.
Whilst Weller’s research screams to the viewers of the urgency of a changing world, often it doesn’t become a priority until it becomes critical. [Cue Humanitarianism]. The term “humanitarism” can be as ambiguous as “landscape architecture” because it is perceived to be very broad and difficult to exactly define for many.
The purpose of Humanitarianism is deeply rooted in the following:
- deal with problems in conflict situations of displacement and loss of livelihoods;
- prevent and strengthen preparedness when crises and natural disasters occur;
- alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and after such situations.
The Moral Dilemma
But why would landscape architects get involved? The Humanitarian Landscape Collective states in their vision statement that landscape architecture has “a professional and moral duty to help vulnerable communities.” Likewise, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) in their updated Declaration for Concern puts forward that “humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself…that serve a higher purpose of social and ecological justice.” Here comes the moral dilemma – surely, if there is a need to do so as we face rapid urbanization, changing climate, and escalating consumption of Earth’s finite resources, landscape architects should get involved in some capacity?
The System Thinkers
There is an ongoing discussion, which exists outside of the humanitarian context for the need of landscape architects to help create an alternate future. The point here is the same. LAF comments that most humanitarian work has a spatial aspect that can benefit from a unique perspective of landscape architects as “systems thinkers trained to design for natural resources, natural processes and people.” Public health, environmental psychology, sociology, food systems… these are the few aspects in which landscape plays a part of either the main benefactor, the binding agent, or simply part of the cast in the creation of a holistically functioning environment.
The Seed Sowers
There are already a bunch of system thinkers sowing the seeds to consider our avenues of assistance. The previously mentioned Humanitarian Landscape Collective, based in London, is currently building knowledge and relationships with other professionals to further identify the role of landscape architects in humanitarian work. The International Federation of Landscape Architects hosts a group called Landscape Architects Without Borders on Facebook that engage in interesting news amongst peers.
Likewise, LAF has seen an increasing interest in international and nonprofit work from students and emerging leaders. Their Olmsted Scholars Program, an annual leadership recognition program for landscape architecture students, has had many humanitarian-focused proposals amongst winners and finalists:
“This year, our graduate National Olmsted Scholar Areti Athanasopoulos and finalist Grace Mitchell Tada each proposed to build on their previous work by investigating and developing frameworks for the design of refugee camp and migrant center landscapes.
In 2018, graduate winner Liz Camuti’s proposal involved researching new forms of socio-ecological infrastructure for isolated populations threatened by climate change and extreme weather, while undergraduate winner Karina Ramos wanted to create a physical plan for the growth and development of an emerging town in Peru to guide the processes of informal urbanization…” (LAF)
Their $25,000 Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership has also notably led to start up of non-profit organisation Critical Places, that aims to work with people and governments to address critical issues in India, such as water scarcity and waste management.
Marriage of Humanitarianism and Landscape Architecture
Whilst the seed sowers continue to explore and re-define the parallel vagueness of language that exist when landscape architecture and humanitarianism come together, they are going to come to face the inevitable challenges.
LAF points out that the holistic nature of landscape architecture approach might be at odds with how humanitarian work is done, which is a reactionary response to a crisis to address human needs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Thus the long-term impacts and ecological needs can get lost in this scramble:
“The different power actors, goals, and funding sources are commonly isolated, which makes it difficult to address issues in a holistic manner. This is an enormous challenge, but may be all the more reason why landscape architects should get involved.” (LAF)
So What Now?
We once discovered that the world was not flat, and with Weller’s cartology, another revelation is created of the world’s current land use and urbanisation situation. It does feel as though landscape architects are starting to deal with the crisis, creating commotions, and achieving collaborations. And the collaboration really extends to creating relationships with the people that need it during the crisis, to maintain, if not, bring back their human dignity over the course that the crisis occurs.
The inevitable challenges are also deeply rooted in the moral dilemma we face and as such, asking ourselves for the reason of getting involved. Whilst landscape architects as “system thinkers” have the prerequisite skills, humanitarian work isn’t about creating a ministry of do-gooders for welfare and social change. It’s about creating an ecosystem that capitalises on the idealists and campaigners who want to help without building a culture of individual saviourism.
Lead Image: © 2017 Richard J. Weller, Claire Hoch, and Chieh Huang, Atlas for the End of the World, http://atlas-for-the-end-of-the-world.com
We would be interested to hear your thoughts – do you think there is scope for landscape architects to be involved in this type of work? What aspects should be given the most efforts? Where do you see any challenges arising as the profession gets involved?Published in