Toward an Urban Ecology



New York, NY, USA | SCAPE | Publisher: The Monacelli Press

A number of highly respected people are talking about the profession and how it’s changing. This is especially important for students to understand.

- 2017 Awards Jury


Graphic Designer



Part monograph, part manual, part manifesto, Toward an Urban Ecology reconceives urban landscape design as a form of activism, advocating for a synthesis of research, practice, and community engagement that is generative of a new form of urban ecology. The book depicts a range of participatory and science-based strategies through the lens of SCAPE’s work, featuring projects, collaborators, and invited essays. The book reveals how design can engage embedded natural processes, cycles, and systems that shape the cities of tomorrow, and focuses on the people and coalitions that form these landscapes.


How is landscape architectural practice changing to meet the uncertainty of climate dynamics, and the need to foster social cohesion? How can designers build not just projects but publics? Combining design, research, art, and environmental knowledge in order to advance landscape architecture as a form of activism, Toward an Urban Ecology is a guidebook for next century practice to tackle the wicked problems of climate change and social fragmentation. This “manufestograph” for the next wave of urban designers cultivates an ethos of civic participation by engaging with infrastructural systems, community groups, and government to empower all parties to help change the world through engagement with infrastructure and landscape.

A landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York, SCAPE is celebrated not only for its interventions in public spaces but also for the far-reaching and meaningful debates it engenders about the built environment, public sphere, and social and environmental justice. Toward an Urban Ecology is a look inside the firm’s creative and varied practice, showing in detail how projects are conceived and constructed, what kinds of research questions are asked, and how the practice has engaged in a constellation of sites and issues. The book is both a manifesto and a tool kit: designed to communicate a broad and deep vision of urban ecology as a form of activism alongside specific and grounded tools and techniques aimed to provoke the next generation of landscape practitioners. SCAPE is at the forefront of a new mode of practice, integrating research with pilot projects and built landscapes and combining the efforts of designers, scientists, policy-makers, and communities to effect change.

Essays by Kate Orff anchor the book chapters. Interviews with scientists, aquaculture experts, social infrastructure advocates, and citizen scientists are sequenced alongside essays by Brian Davis, Jane Hutton, Thaisa Way, and Emily Eliza Scott in a way that mirrors the intense creative process of the office.  Interspersed into this intellectual and social context are descriptions of the immersive, regenerative, and engaging design projects that continue to emerge from this outward focused and inclusive methodology.

The Introduction to the book grounds the body of work as a stance, an attitude, a way of thinking and operating in the world. The themes of Revive, Cohabit, Engage, and Scale serve as the framework for the book. These chapters provide forward-thinking and celebratory design provocations that can catalyze change and arm the reader with a way of thinking and acting ecologically across systems.

The Chapter titled Revive explores a design ethic that overlays natural and cultural systems toward the common purpose of generating eco-awareness. It features public spaces that hold water, and downtowns that can reclaim and reveal their relationships to rivers and bodies of waters that sparked their formation. Cohabit features projects that extend design thinking beyond our own species and that enliven the public realm to make space for animals and more diverse biology. Engage illustrates how design processes can hybridize community organizing techniques to nest project making within social life.  Scale demonstrates the integration and scalability of the ideas and shows the potential for landscape practice to radically span scales from micro-pilots and ecological experiments to macro scales of planning and analysis. 

The book posits an urban nature not as a static, green pastoral background but an active socio-ecological canvas that involves people and politics, mud and mug wort.