Gina Ford: Into an Era of Landscape Humanism
Gina Ford: Into an Era of Landscape Humanism

[Applause] Thank you to the
LAF for having me, and thank you all for
listening to my scratchy voice. My name is Gina Ford. I’m a principal
landscape architect. I’m going to talk about ‘Into
an Era of Landscape Humanism.’ Fifty years ago, the
voice of our profession was eerily prescient, undeniably
smart, and powerfully inspired. It was also, as
others have noted, almost entirely white and male. This is an image
from my alma mater of what our profession
looked like around the middle of last century. Now, I note this
relative monoculture, not out of disrespect to
the Declaration’s authors. Clearly, their charge
for greater depth of environmental
understanding and expertise is certainly as relevant
today as it was then. Yet as we look
forward and we think about the significance
of climate change, demographic shifts
and income inequality, the Declaration’s man
as natures’ antagonist feels strangely
abstract and incomplete. And P.S. – this is what
the Harvard Graduate School of Design looks like today. To maintain relevance
over the next fifty years, the profession needs to
demonstrate the highest level of natural
systems expertise, but must devote equal attention
to the human dimension of the equation. I want to talk about
three ideas to that end. First, we as a profession
need to diversify. Second, as
practitioners, we need to sharpen our technical
skills vis-a-vis the needs of the people that we serve. And third, as
collaborators, we need to hone our communication
and leadership skills. I would also like
to celebrate along the way some landscape
architects that I believe really are
living this ethic and following these beliefs. So let’s start with
diversifying our ranks. The Declaration of Concern said
that today’s demands require more landscape architects
than are available, and that’s true today as well. But in order to
grow our profession, we’re going to need to
diversify our profession. On the left-hand side here,
you see the national population and you see Hispanic and
Black populations are 16 and 12 percent,
respectively, yet our profession is woefully underrepresented
by these groups. Importantly, those
are also the groups that are growing at
the fastest rate. So here are areas of high
growth anticipated between 2010 and 2030, and you see the
Hispanic and Black populations growing. So how can we address that,
as a White profession? This is an assessment
also of the leadership of our profession, so this is
an assessment of the leadership of the firms that won
ASLA awards last year and what percentage of
their leadership was female and what percentage
was of color. And again, we’re woefully
underrepresenting our population in our
highest levels of leadership. Its not just about
participation, its also about the highest
levels of our profession and the highest
levels of leadership. And its important to
note this isn’t just about being warm and
fuzzy and feeling like were doing the right thing and
we feel good about ourselves. Its actually about innovation. If our profession is going to
stay relevant and innovative, diversity begets innovation. And also, there’s a really
strong business case for diversity. Diverse teams,
studies show, are more likely to capture new markets,
to increase market share, and resonate with
increasingly diverse clients. At my company Sasaki, which is
a sort of historic practice, over the last
decades, we’ve really been working hard to recruit
and retain a more diverse staff. We have 250 people
in our practice, we represent over 30
countries of origin, and 35 different languages
are spoken in our building. We devote a lot of attention to
the discussion around diversity and how it fundamentally will
change our values as a practice and what that means
for us moving forward. It also means that we’ve had
to redefine our business model. We’ve let our young leaders
drive – let their passion – drive us into new
markets, into new endeavors like research and exhibitions. This is one led by Nina
Chase, who is out there in the audience – hey
Nina, what’s up, girl – called Sea Change, a study
about sea-level rise in Boston. Secondly, in practice
we need to think about designing for people and
designing for social equity. The Declaration
said, “All too soon, life in such
polluted environments will be the national
human experience.” And as we know, as we look
across our own country, we see increased
disaster frequency, and we know that risk
is fairly widespread. There’s really no place
but Michigan that’s apparently spared the brunt. [Laughter] But all
joking aside, it isn’t impacting people the same. It’s the poorest
populations and those that are the most
vulnerable that are the most at risk
and the most impacted and are the least likely
to be able to bounce back from disaster. Our work at Asbury
Park, during the Rebuild by Design competition, this was
a community impacted by Sandy. And while we were really
interested in dune restoration to help protect that
community from sea-level rise and also preserve their
kind of beach culture, and all of this
green infrastructure, the community when
polled said that the key to their resilience wasnt
about the environment only. It was about social resilience. It was a racially
divided community where the Black and White
population didn’t mix. So we staged a
parade and got them to start thinking about
their city as one city. And it’s not just the
disaster condition, right? It’s every day. These statistics from Los
Angeles paint a picture – and I know they are
working hard to overcome this – but in White
neighborhoods there is an average of 32
acres per 1,000 residents for open space, where Latino
and Asian populations have less than one. So that leads me to the
incomparable Mia Lehrer and the work that she’s doing
to reclaim grey infrastructure through the neighborhoods
of Los Angeles, thinking about
enviro-restoration and recreation and benefit to
some of these really woefully underserved communities. And the work of David
Rubin and Land Collective. Here, he’s working in a
neighborhood in Baltimore, reimagining urban open space
as an economic revitalizer and having the community
actually participate. There’s job creation inherent
in this designed landscape. And then lastly, a shout
out to Mitchell Silver, who was a client of ours in Raleigh
and now the Commissioner of New York Public Parks, who really
is talking about social equity at a whole new level
and is really exciting, and if those of you who havent
seen the Parks Without Borders Summit and Initiative, its
really worth checking out. His mission is
something we’re going to see some really great
things come out of. And then lastly, collaboration. Landscape architects are really
taking a front seat these days with really complex
problems and really bringing together complex teams
and leading a charge. And so, as we think about this
era of landscape humanism, it also involves our softer
skills of communication, leadership and collaboration. The Declaration of
Concern noted this, that we need a new,
collaborative effort to improve the American environment. We’ve been working
on a competition called Changing Course,
south of New Orleans. It’s addressing
land loss and flood risk along the
Mississippi River Delta, and it’s taken an enormous
team of social scientists, natural scientists,
engineers, urban designers, urban planners, and we
as landscape architects as part of the team are the ones
responsible for synthesizing all of those disparate
threads, bringing them together in a legible language
that’s clear to the public and that can get them inspired
about large-scale environmental change. And I wanted to also
shout out to Kate Orff, having witnessed her work
during the Rebuild by Design competition, was doing much the
same thing bringing together human and natural
systems in a way – and communicating
in such a way – that could get people
excited about new forms of infrastructure
that is jargon-less. Its basic, and people
understand that its serving multiple purposes. And lastly, I just
wanted to acknowledge those that are teaching the
next generation of landscape architects and those
that are really celebrating interdisciplinary
collaboration. Here is a studio led by
Kofi Boone from NC State. He brings together landscape
architects, architects, and he’s a problem-seeker. He goes out and he finds
issues and has service learning studios that address those. So here in Ghana,
he had his students – an interdisciplinary
team – work with this community
to understand how they were
underserved by open space and then come up
with recommendations for how simple change could be. And then last but
not least, this is the work of Professor
Pedro Pacheco, a landscape architect in Monterrey, Mexico. He uses his interdisciplinary
design studios to get his students out
into the poor neighborhoods around Monterrey, Mexico. This is a woman, Mrs. Rozenda,
that the students interviewed. And then they wound
up building her a new home out of
found materials from the neighborhood, including
new stormwater infrastructure. So, Landscape
Architecture Foundation wants us to be able
to solve problems complex, interrelated
environmental, economic, and social problems
the ones we face today. And I would argue that we cant
do it unless we diversify, unless we really think about
the people that we’re serving, and lastly, if we dont use
our skills to bring everyone together around a shared
vision for the future. Thank you. [Applause]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *