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Landscape Stories as Catalysts of the Shared City [Land8x8 Video]

Nate Cormier Photo

The ways in which citizens engage the landscape reveal a community’s values and priorities. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Seattle, Nate Cormier, Principal at Rios Clementi Hale Studios, conjectured that American urbanism has a storytelling problem.

Arcadian and Utopian mythologies of the West were used to sell sprawling patterns of land use and transportation which encouraged people to live in low-density environments and to take their leisure in private. Through media like Sunset Magazine, the California backyard grew into an American ideal. The resulting landscape of inequity has in recent decades been compounded by virulent NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”) which resists infill housing and makes living in job-rich cities increasingly unaffordable for young people.

While he hopes that society continues to wrestle with these injustices, Cormier sees a unique role for landscape architects in telling the optimistic story of the “shared city.” As cities become denser, more and more of their residents will need to pursue leisure in common rather than in private backyards. How can the public realm respond in a way that makes room and makes meaning for all citizens?

Photo: Grand Park | Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Photo: Grand Park | Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Cormier shared three examples from the work of Rios Clementi Hale Studios—Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles, Downtown Park in Palm Springs, and Jones Plaza in Houston’s Theater District. These projects demonstrate how public space can leverage cultural diversity and site specificity to delight visitors and inspire urban living. These kinds of comfortable civic places are essential catalysts of the shared city spirit we need to accommodate growing urban populations with grace.

Based in Los Angeles, Rios Clementi Hale Studios is a multi-disciplinary design house with an adventurous portfolio ranging from large parks, performance spaces and gardens to tableware, surfboards and a new clothing line. Their practice celebrates the connection between people and place. They believe that good design connects people, celebrates their stories as individuals, and brings people together, allowing for new stories to be created.

“Design is never without story. It connects people to each other and the world around us. Together we work beyond boundaries to reveal, explore, and invent designs that amplify experiences.” – Rios Clementi Hale Studios mission statement


This video was filmed on June 7, 2018 in Seattle, WA as part of the Land8x8 Lighting Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Published in Blog, Cover Story, Featured
Stephanie Roa is a designer at LandDesign – a highly-collaborative design firm offering urban design, planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering and branding services both nationally and internationally. She is a registered landscape architect and enjoys working at a variety of scales ranging from urban mixed-use developments to agrarian-focused master planned communities to small-scale complex site design. As a socially responsibly designer, Stephanie is passionate about creating high-performance landscapes that strengthen connections between people and place. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Maryland, College Park with a minor in both Sustainable Studies and Landscape Management. She is an advocate for sustainable landscape solutions, achieving both LEED Green Associate and SITES AP credentials. Stephanie is a contributing writer for Land8, where she enjoys writing about the pressing issues and transformative innovations that are driving the profession forward. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), actively serving on the ULI Washington Young Leaders Group Education Committee. In 2019, she was awarded the ULI Rising Leaders Scholarship for September 2019 - June 2020 and is a participant in the 2019-20 ULI Washington Mentorship Program. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @stephroa2.

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