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ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland. PWP Landscape Architecture >

Students Align With ASLA on Climate Crisis

Recently, a collective of landscape architecture students from around the country crafted an open letter to ASLA’s leadership about how ASLA and the profession may continue to respond to the ongoing climate crisis. “As design students deeply invested in the future of the world’s landscapes and their ability to sustain life, we have come together from across the United States to call on the ASLA to strengthen its commitment to addressing the most serious challenge of our times.”

The students outlined their concerns in a series of short- and long-term demands that call on the profession to address climate change by strengthening its advocacy efforts, bolstering its post-secondary and professional educational curricula, standing for environmental justice, and promoting landscape architecture projects globally. ASLA applauds the students for making such a bold and powerful statement and is pleased that their demands mirror ASLA’s goals and accomplishments.

ASLA wholeheartedly agrees that publicly asserting the Society’s commitment to mitigating the climate crisis is a critical step. Since 2018, ASLA has made over 20 public statements on climate change or related public policy issues. Further, ASLA is the only design and building industry organization to have signed the We Are Still In declaration to commit to climate action in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

More importantly, in May 2019, the ASLA Board of Trustees unanimously passed a new policy on Climate Change and Resilience to announce Society’s stance on the climate crisis clearly. The policy rationale states, “Landscape architects have the responsibility to apply their education and experience to protect natural ecosystems and social infrastructure through practice, advocacy, education, and research. Existing policies, codes, and practices may not be adequate for dealing with the climate change effects and thus need critical evaluation and revision at a global, national, state, and local level.”

As the student collective points out, adopting sound post-secondary and professional educational curricula that address the climate crisis is essential. They note that “dedicated coursework on climate change taught by scientists and policy professionals is not yet an explicit requirement of academic programs.” These students and other interested stakeholders have a fast-approaching opportunity to influence landscape architecture university curricula. Starting November 1 through December 15, the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board (LAAB) will host a public comment review period for the 2016 LAAB Accreditation Standards. Faculty, students, ASLA members, and non-members should use this opening to advocate for a strengthened climate crisis curriculum in university programs.

On the professional education side, the 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture features two general sessions and roughly 28 education sessions specifically on climate change and resilience. ASLA also has significant climate change, resilience, and sustainability resources for landscape architects housed on its website. In addition to those explicitly related to its Smart Policies report, there are reports and tools devoted to climate change mitigation, resilient design, green infrastructure, sustainable transportation design, sustainable urban development, sustainable residential development, and three toolkits for sustainable planning and design projects. The Kresge Foundation’s report, “Professional Societies and Climate Change,” named ASLA one of only nine national organizations that adopted a holistic approach to educating the public and its members about climate change.

There is no doubt that the visionary work of landscape architects is at the forefront of addressing the climate crisis. The winners of the 2019 ASLA Professional and Student Awards clearly demonstrate the profession’s ingenuity in addressing this issue, as well as a myriad of design, environmental, and social problems. There currently is no separate awards category for resilience and sustainability based on the principle that those concepts should be goals for all projects. To emphasize this core value of the profession, submissions starting in the 2020 cycle will be required to specify the degree to which their projects and plans address issues of climate change and resilience.

ASLA is extremely proud of its work on addressing the climate crisis. Of the 18 concerns highlighted by the student collaborative, ASLA is already working on or has achieved 16, with a couple currently unachievable due to state licensure laws or antitrust prohibitions. However, there certainly is more work to be done, particularly in collaborating with our industry sister organizations, tackling environmental justice, and increasing intergenerational involvement.

To begin these efforts, ASLA is hosting a Student Climate Crisis Forum during the upcoming Conference on Landscape Architecture on Friday, November 15, 5:15-6:00 p.m., in the San Diego Convention Center, Room 24 BC. The forum will feature a discussion on how the profession and ASLA are addressing the climate crisis, the Green New Deal, and the future of landscape architecture education. National Student Representative Robynne Heymans, Associate ASLA, and National Associate Representative Kene Okigbo, ASLA, who both sit on ASLA’s Board of Trustees, will facilitate the discussion.

ASLA encourages all students and emerging professionals to participate actively in this vital conversation. They are part of the generations who will take up the mantle of boldly addressing the crisis and continuing the profession’s work of saving our planet.

Let us be strong partners in this fight!

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