The World Without Landscape Architects!

Landscape Architecture

Alan Reisman’s gripping book “The World Without Us” details what would occur after a sudden vanishing of human life from the Earth. Nature would reclaim the built environment through processes that would begin within hours of the end of human intervention. But what if there were a world without “us,” as in those of us who guide change in the landscape, both throughout history and going forward? Here we will explore how things would have been different, as well as potential consequences going forward if the world was without landscape architects! Urban Design The idea of a “central park” is not unique to New York City. Many other cities of all shapes and sizes have developed around a communal green space that provides people with an area of respite away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Without landscape architects, what would have taken the place of parks? Government centers, massive transit hubs, and superstructures may have become the centerpieces to urban form. Without parks and public spaces as integral parts of daily life, perhaps people would have fled cities altogether in search of less claustrophobic surroundings.

Can you imagine New York without Central Park; credit:

Can you imagine New York without Central Park; credit:

Access to Nature Landscape architects have played a crucial role in the planning of hiking trails, bikeways, and jogging paths that provide humans with a means of connectivity and recreation. Given the option, many people have opted to make a scenic bike ride to work a relaxing part of their day. On a larger scale, design has allowed for a wider audience to experience wonders of nature that were previously off limits or difficult to get to. By creating environmentally sensitive plans for state and national parks and other natural areas of interest, there is now incredible accessibility for all to take in the sights and sounds of the world’s most pristine places. See also Top 10 Walkable Cities
Vancouver; credit: Lissandra Melo /

Vancouver; credit: Lissandra Melo /

Ecology The development of urban, rural, and suburban areas has reduced biodiversity at varying levels, but would have been much worse without ecologically minded people as part of the design team. By selecting native plantings and advocating for the removal of invasive species, we have prevented the total destruction of many of the Earth’s unique ecosystems. Just the existence of plants in cities helps filter air pollution and maintains a healthy air quality for urban inhabitants. On the fringes, strategic preservation and planting have saved species of plants and animals alike from extinction. Many of these are essential parts of biological cycles that provide food and medicine that we rely on heavily. Good book to read: Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Dr. Noel Kingsbury
The Highline is a great example of a planting scheme increasing biodiversity in an urban area; credit:

The Highline is a great example of a planting scheme increasing biodiversity in an urban area; credit:

Erosion The erosion of riverbanks and cliffs is a natural process, but the rate at which it occurs has been accelerated by human activities. Many rivers were dammed, widened, and dredged, leading to higher volumes of water. Although the speed of the water was slowed, the new barriers were not nearly as durable as the previous, naturally occurring edge conditions. Because of this, a large portion of landscape architectural work over the past century has been to stabilize riparian zones to prevent rivers from becoming too wide and subjecting developed areas to constant flooding. See also Turenscape Design Outstanding River Park and see how they dealt with riparian wetlands.
Lush vegetative planting at the Floating Gardens; credit:

Lush vegetative planting at the Floating Gardens; credit: Turenscape

Flooding Stormwater management has been the hot button sustainability issue of late, but without the less flashy water solutions of the past, we would be in some serious trouble. Flooding would be rampant in areas with no natural drainage solutions, where we would have to rely on retention and detention ponds designed to function in different storm events. The loss of wetlands reduces the amount of absorbent surface in the landscape. Incorporating floodable marshes and riverside buffers into master plans has prevented overflow and instituted diverse ecosystems. In the city, bio swales and rain gardens are assisting and replacing crumbling sewer infrastructure. If these sustainable methods of water catchment were to suddenly disappear, the rise in global urbanization would quickly overwhelm existing systems. Below: Trailer for top documentary “The Big Uneasy revealing that flooding was caused by more than four decades of misguided construction and design. See also our Top 10 Documentaries For Landscape Architects Granted, landscape architects weren’t the only ones involved in these innovations. Ecologists, horticulturalists, civil engineers, and architects have all played a role in the process. We have certainly taken the lead on bringing everyone to the table, and should continue to so. Can you think of other situations that would be very different without the presence of landscape architects? Article written by Peter Salmon

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