Design Ecologies for Landscape Ecological Urbanism

This is a re-post of a text which I recently wrote for the summer 2011 issue of the newsletter of EFLA - The European Federation of Landscape Architects.

Hubei village and adjacent high rise developments. Shenzhen, China 2011 (image by M.Marsh)

Conceptualizing new design ecologies for landscape ecological urbanism 
"In this century, mankind’s biggest challenges like resource constraint, climate change, or global demographic shifts will be encountered in the urban realm. Over the last decade, concepts such as landscape urbanism, ecological urbanism, or, landscape ecological urbanism emerged in an attempt to negotiate the complexity of contemporary (mega)cities. Such approaches are currently the most advanced concepts for designing urban environments which are able to accommodate human life increasingly constrained by environmental pressures.
Nevertheless, in contemporary landscape practice and teaching, we still frequently witness a disconnect between goals like social justice, environmental credibility and cultural meaning of projects, while all of them appear equally important for designers in urbanism [1]. This note provides some inspirational theoretical input for landscape urbanism practice and summarizes an article which will be published in the first issue of the EFLA online journal later this year.
As designers in urbanism we may understand our practice as a guiding of urbanism; in which we equally observe, mitigate and create the processes constituting our urban environments. To juggle urbane aims such as environmental concerns, social justice and cultural vibrancy, one may anticipate putting the human subject in the center - but not in a traditionally humanist way by optimizing systems solely for human needs - rather creating landscapes of a networked human ecology, where a reciprocal responsibility between mankind and supporting ecosystem is possible and sought.
Recent theoretical discourse was to some extent focused on metrics of how to measure a sustainable urban development [2]. A simple benchmark worth exploring for landscape practice is the adoption of ecological debt and ecological credit where ecological impacts of (built) interventions in the landscape are assessed and compared to the state before the project. But are landscape ecological projects automatically socially just and culturally meaningful? I would answer no, but the integration of ecological narratives extended with an engaged human subject would provide an opportunity to create diverse, lively and meaningful urban landscapes featuring vibrant social ecologies.
In the worldwide urban laboratory there is huge demand and need for new concepts to be integrated into the design of urbanism. Here, designers in urbanism can engage themselves by providing research outcomes and tools previously developed, or, by applying conclusions in adaptive approaches on the ground or in landscape education. To understand one’s own work taking place with such a background can provide a vitally inspirational impulse to define one’s design and research ecology within the broader context of a globalized practice of landscape ecological urbanism" 

[1] To make a provocative point about disciplinary boundaries, I will in this article refer to the disciplines of landscape architecture, landscape planning, urban planning, urban design, architecture - all of which are engaged with urbanism – simply as designers in urbanism.
[2] The question why we mainly measure development of (urban) environments shall be discussed elsewhere. It is questionable if the concept of ‘development’ is in the long run compatible with the normative goal of ‘sustainability’.

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