Modern landscape design increasingly incorporates ecological features and palettes. However, the disciplines of ecological science and landscape architecture have different academic training, career trajectories, vocabulary, and professional cultures. Ecological Restoration, a quarterly academic journal, is a new platform where these two related disciplines can communicate for common progress. A new, special section of the journal, “Design Approaches to Ecological Restoration,” showcases a landscape architect’s project design, which is then followed by critical commentary by academic ecologists with scientific training related to the site work. The dialogue asks: Does the design meet its stated ecological goals? In what ways could the landscape architect improve ecological services consistent with the design intent? How can similar future projects better advance ecological functions? In these ways this journal uniquely presents scientific perspectives to the design world, to help mesh the activities of the two professions in service to our society.
The urgent and worldwide interest in improving our environment is being answered by different professions. Landscape architecture is embracing ecological concepts and native palettes to increase ecological functioning at all scales, from retention basins to extensive new parklands. In parallel to this effort is the work of academic ecological scientists who explore the structure and functioning of habitats, towards understanding the biotic mechanisms of sustainability. However, although these two professional disciplines share many interests, their work is not well integrated. The two professions are formally trained in different skills and vocabularies, in different departments, often even in different colleges, within our universities. They rarely even meet – divorced from each other before the first date.
Ecologists suffer by this separation from the design professions by having no regular path to having their conceptual progress expressed on the land to advance sustainability. Only members of the design professions have the license to sign and seal blueprints upon which new ecological communities can be based. In this sense ecological science is truly in an ivory tower, not displayed on a green and improved landscape. How can these two disciplines critical for environmental advancement be better integrated?
The national journal Ecological Restoration originated as a science outlet reporting experiments aimed at improving restoration practice and also exploring social aspects of restoring our native habitats. The community of restoration ecologists is grounded in affection for natural history. They have interest in focused experiments to understand particular methods or interactions that lead to new natural communities that will persist. This body of knowledge addresses many habitat types, including meadows, woodlands, wetlands, and coastal and urban areas. However, this knowledge substantially remained within the ecological profession.The desire to see these advances adopted on the ground is a yearning expressed at ecological science meetings of experimentalists and restoration practitioners. These are not meetings where the design professions are well represented, to say the least!
The profession of landscape architecture has a long history of interest in natural landscapes, from the naturalistic styles of the 19th century, to the planning and design advances expressed by McHarg, for example, and others, to new efforts through the Sustainable Sites Initiative to make design work more valuable from environmental, economic, and management perspectives.
How can these two professional communities be better integrated? How can advances in ecological knowledge of the structure and functioning of these habitats be more effectively introduced to the landscape architecture profession? Many well-trained landscape architects do not have time to incorporate a suite of ecology courses in their formal training, already time intensive, even if available at their academies.
Ecological Restoration now is attempting to be the meeting ground to develop a closer, critical interaction between these two disciplines. Our new mission is to advance the ecological content of designed environments and also to show ecological scientists that collaboration with the l. a. profession is critical to advance their core interest in adding restored acreage of habitats, improving the environment. Our approach has been to initiate a new section in issues of the journal, Design Approaches to Ecological Restoration, to proactively be the matchmaker between these two academic traditions. (Some sample projects are in the image section.)
The Editors invite a landscape architect to report on a major project that has a strong ecological component. Professional ecologists then are invited to write a published commentary on each project, from an ecological science perspective. The reviewers are asked, “Have the designers’ ecological goals been realized? What can be done at this site in the future to improve ecological function, consistent with the overall design intent? How can future projects improve on the ecological foundation that this designer has achieved?” In this way, members of both professions, landscape architecture and restoration science, are drawn into a novel dialogue and can gain new perspectives. There are also Editorials that advance this “matchmaking” goal by discussing common professional goals and hurdles to be crossed (two typical Editorials are in the image section).
Examples of these new conversations from recent issues include the following:
Ecological elements of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park (MVVA, designer) were reported midway during the construction phase. Critiques followed. Fish ecologists asked whether the marine boardwalks would have any impact on the submarine communities. An invertebrate zoologist reported on the potential for colonization by marine organisms at the base of the food web. An academic who specializes in mollusks (clams) discussed impacts of the design on aquatic resources and public understanding of the marine environment. These essays also informed regulators of the ecological value of designed work that requires regulatory permits. This helps build confidence that new designed work can also offer environmental improvements to complement civic opportunities.
A Special Issue on Restoring Ecological Corridors included the four finalists of an international design competition. Images and the landscape theory for each submission were published followed by perspectives from a range of scientific disciplines. A human ecologist asked whether behavior of people as well as animals could have been better integrated into the winning design. A wildlife biologist was concerned that aspects of herd social behavior needed more attention. A conservation biologist discussed negative indirect effects of the choice of materials and the attraction of even more people to view the beautiful design, weakening crossing rates by the wildlife. A restoration ecologist wondered if the designs were as biologically effective as they were lovely.
The marine design article to enhance shellfish habitat (SCAPE, designer), potentially improving water quality and slowing storm surges, was critiqued by an oyster expert: could this concept really work given tidal dynamics and current urban water quality? What do we need to know before using shellfish instead of riprap? Would the materiality of the project persist long enough to support sustainable shellfish populations?
Other published dialogues have focused on treatment wetlands in cities, hardscape design adjacent to marine habitats, meadow design at a rural private estate, and construction methodology to increase local biodiversity.
Ecological Restoration is a quarterly that reaches subscribers and libraries (print and online) and now is attracting more students of design as well as restoration ecology practitioners. By showcasing design work in partnership with ecology, we encourage the two cultures to march more closely together for our common future. This published dialogue can lead to more effective team building and even new academic initiatives; it is a venue for those first dates.
Steven N. Handel, Hon. ASLA
Brooke Maslo, Ph.D.
Myla F. J. Aronson, Ph.D.
Paulina A. Arancibia, Joshua D. Echols, Amy E. K. Long, Molly MacLeod.
School of Environmental and biological Sciences, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Robert M. Goodman, Executive Dean