Nurturing the Unexpected Links

What is it about urban conditions that make them so compelling to study? Architects may argue the built form is the critical feature to evaluate.  Landscape architects might suggest the links between the ecological and human elements are the most interesting. Urban planners might argue the opportunities and challenges in the social context a diverse population presents are the most interesting. I think it is all of those reasons and more. An undergraduate education in architecture and urbanism and work experience led me to pursue dual masters degrees in landscape architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington.

This quarter has already provided an interesting opportunity to reconsider the elements I think are crucial to designing, planning, and living in cities. I’m not entirely sure what I expected coursework ‘Sustainable Development and Regional Economics’ and ‘Designing with Living Systems’ to contribute to my thesis and academic process but it’s certainly delivering interesting opportunities for intellectual growth.  I’m beginning to realize that my desired areas of practice in landscape architecture will include considering ecological, social, and economic factors.  The most engaging element of this process is the potential for these disparate topics to intersect and inform each other.

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While doing reading for my courses and thesis I’m struck by the opportunity that integrating urban agriculture into sustainable development might provide. The positive social and economic impacts urban agriculture programs have on communities are a great reason to consider including them in a sustainable development scheme. When you realize the increased production potential in the advanced systems (3 to 6 times more efficient for vertical growth) we could create opportunities to lower carbon emissions, nutrient use, and water demand in comparison to ‘traditional’ agricultural practice.

The need for standardized metrics and systems of measurement is a concept is also discussed in Infrastructure Sustainability and Design, edited by Pollalis.  It introduces the Zofnass Rating System as a method to evaluate infrastructure sustainability and design. The authors of the Zofnass system suggest that the Zofnass System will do for infrastructure what LEED™ has done for architecture. The book also encompasses a chapter written on the concept of “Landscape Infrastructure”, written by Pierre Belanger. Landscape Infrastructure is an interesting topic that I think will be a shaping component of my thesis.

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I came across this video today on Huffington Post from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In this specific video Aron Cramer, President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility, acknowledges the direct link between income inequality and climate change. The video also touches on innovation, transparency as an incentive, and different methods of measuring success. Aron speaks briefly (at the 3:35 mark) about the cultural shift from short-term considerations in business to a model that more closely resembles the Creating Shared Value article written by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer we read for class (Porter’s discussion of the concept of ‘shared value’ on the Harvard Business Review’s website is also an interesting discussion on creating profit.).  The World Economic Forum’s short “Global Risks 2014” video report also reflects the intentions of rejecting short-term vision. It’s heartening to see that global leaders are tackling the elements we are reading and discussing in this class.

So what do you get when you mix architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning education in one student’s head? Sometimes, you get my perspective. It will be an interesting exploration to see how each of these areas of study can inform development, both personally and in our urban contexts.

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