Sustainability In The Work And In The Profession: ASLA 2006 Conference Coverage

Coverage of the American Society of Landscape Architects 2006 conference and the International Federation of Landscape Architects world congress, held October 6-10 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
October 16, 2006, 7am PDT | Jamie Tschida
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Minneapolis, Minn., hosted the first joint meeting between the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) October 6-10. The collaboration with the IFLA World Congress helped boost the 2006 ASLA Annual Meeting to its highest attendance in two decades with more than 4,000 registrants. Titled "Green Solutions for a Blue Planet," the meeting took a global look at issues related to the profession, often emphasizing environmental sustainability.

At the beginning of the convention ASLA President Dennis Carmichael stated, "There is good reason for landscape architects around the world to come together to share, to learn and to grow." He expressed the need for the profession to take a leadership role in improving the health of the planet, addressing issues of sustainability at all scales. IFLA President Martha Fajardo concurred, declaring that a "globalizing world demands global solutions."

 ASLA President Dennis Carmichael swears in President-Elect Pat Caughey in front of the ASLA Board.
ASLA President Dennis Carmichael swears in President-Elect Pat Caughey in front of the ASLA Board. (Photo by Jamie Tschida)

Educator, environmentalist and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau, who followed in the footsteps of his famous father, Jacques Cousteau, echoed this sentiment in the first general session of the convention. Cousteau discussed his passion for stewardship of the sea, noting that more than 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered in water, which provides an interconnectedness for all life on the planet. He reminded the audience of the need to "live in harmony with a world in which we've been privileged to be born," where the oceans act as our life support system. He ran down the long history of the earth and observed, "We are newcomers on this planet we have just appeared."

The interconnectivity of land and water

Illustrating his commentary with vibrant film footage, Cousteau zoomed out on a satellite image of the earth, showing the interconnectivity of land and water without borders, all working as one system. Zooming in below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, he revealed a glimpse of the more than 700 species of hard coral, describing their necessity as a source of food, economic development (in tourism), and natural protection against disasters such as tsunamis. He lamented destructive land-use practices such as clear-cutting forests, which leads to erosion and topsoil washing down into the ocean, choking off these coral reefs.

Cousteau also discussed his expedition to a chain of islands, mostly underwater mountains, running for 2,000 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. While the coastlines he visited were uninhabited by humans, he showed film of his "Voyage to Kure" littered with trash, including metal, plastics, glass and electronics, resulting from irresponsible disposal, as well as 82 tons of fishing nets that he referred to as "killing machines." His team found dead monk seals who had consumed as much as three pounds of foreign debris, as well as birds killed by the ingestion of refuse that could be traced back to at least 52 different countries. Cousteau showed a documentary special of this expedition at the White House, at which President Bush told Cousteau something needed to be done. On June 15, the president declared these islands a national marine monument, thereby establishing the largest protected piece of ocean on earth.

Cousteau ended his general session speech by reminding the audience that there are still beautiful places in the world, and our efforts are not too late. "We can make miracles. We can change everything. We're responsible for designing a way of life more than anyone else and I am totally convinced that we can do it – otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

Retaining the art in landscape architecture

The second general session featured Kongjian Yu, Dean and Professor of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University and founder of the firm Turenscape. Yu spoke of landscape architecture as "the art of survival," while criticizing the loss of this art with many projects declining into single-minded ideas of either engineering or the purely cosmetic.

According to Yu, these single-minded driving forces are of special concern in regards to China, given the enormous challenges the country faces, both in culture and environment. "If we are going to save the world, you have to save China first," Yu said. Twenty-one percent of the world's population currently resides in China, while the country holds only seven percent of the world's natural resources, and the percentage of Chinese who live in cities is expected to increase by one percent each year. Urban sprawl is pervasive in China, as are issues related to water, with flooding causing upwards of $100 billion of damage annually and leaving hundreds of cities facing water shortages.

Diane Dale, a landscape architect and Director of Community Planning at William McDonough + Partners, noted in her education session "Sustainable Community Planning in China" that 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are found in China according to the World Health Organization. Dale spoke of McDonough's "Cradle to Cradle" philosophy and the firm's attempt to bring new ideas into their planning efforts in China. While addressing a number of lost battles, she observed signs of optimism in China's leadership, moving from Deng Xiaoping's ideas of "economic development above all" to current president Hu Jintao's statement of the need for a "virtuous cycle in both our ecological and socioeconomic systems."

Jamie Tschida is currently pursuing her Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota, where she serves as co-editor of the College of Design's student-edited journal. She also works for the landscape architecture firm oslund.and.assoc. in Minneapolis.

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