Speakers Show How Nature and Design Are Central to Healthy Communities

At the 2010 ASLA Annual Meeting, a range of U.S. and international speakers presented both concepts and projects that relate to the conference theme "Earth Air Water Fire Design."

There were more than 130 presentations from government officials, leading designers, firms, and academia. Threaded throughout presentations was a focus on the critical role sustainable landscapes play in creating healthier people and communities.

In his opening remarks, Gary Scott, FASLA, said: "Nature is essential to our health, wellbeing, and quality of life." Scott also argued that "beauty is no longer a luxury. Communities have to be beautiful to survive." Increasingly, investing in beautiful communities means investing in sustainability. "Sustainability is now mainstream."

ASLA's The Dirt blog covered a number of presentations:

Dr. Richard Jackson: "We Are No Longer Creating Wellbeing" 
Dr. Richard Jackson, Chair of the School of Health at UCLA, and former head of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), argued that how we shape our environment impacts our public health. The are now deep-rooted structural issues with the built environment that are creating epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and depression. Also, the current way of dealing with these structural issues is only just increasing the annual amount of spending on healthcare (now at 17 percent of GDP), instead of addressing the underlying problems. “We are now medicalizing the problems people are experiencing with their environment. We are no longer creating wellbeing.”

Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Green Roof Design
Especially in urban environments, green roofs offer tremendous opportunities to create outdoor gathering spaces in densely built environments. In addition to their social value, green roofs provide opportunities for environmental stewardship and economic revitalization.

Biophilia: "An Innate Emotional Affiliation with Nature" 
To create biophilic landscapes and address these challenges, landscape architects may need to restore for the future, not the past. “We need to create the original ecosystem plus its eventual trajectory.” In addition, the result may be "new novel ecosystems” that the planet has never seen before. However, Bowers noted that “all of this needs to be rooted in science — in biology, ecology."

Quantifying the Benefits of Beauty
Mithun, a Seattle-based landscape architecture firm, is guided by a set of principles that form its integrated approach to sustainable design, says Susan Olmsted, ASLA. One principle is “do the math”; another is “create beauty / spirt.” Olmsted said metrics and aesthetics were interdependent — it’s the mix that creates a “sense of purpose.”

Complete Streets: Streets as Public Space
The goal of Complete Streets is “to make streets part of public space” and green and attractive. Streets should be community assets, compatible with built and natural environments, and reflect the balanced needs of the community and transportation networks, said Keith Robinson, ASLA, Caltrans.  

The Netherlands' Evolving Relationship with Water
On climate change, Van Eyck says the Dutch don’t have all the answers. “Nature always fights back somehow.” Soils are shrinking, putting land back below sea levels again. Weather changes are creating monsoon-like rains, meaning some dikes won’t be able to hold the increased water flow. With increased water flow, the soil balance is also changing, “deteriorating.”

Using Constructed Wetlands to Treat Wastewater
Engineered constructed wetlands often feature “mechanical aeration” to enhance their performance.  “Numerous processes are responsible for wastewater purification, including phytoremediation, microbiological mineralization, filtration by gravel and gravitational sedimentation. All components of the system have a role to play.” Paul Knowles, Natural Systems Utilities, explained: “these are the kidneys of landscape.”

Go to The Dirt to read ongoing coverage of the 2010 Annual Meeting.


Karen T. Grajales
Manager, Public Relations 
tel: 1-202-216-2371

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