The New Landscape Declaration

Date Posted: 06.16.2016

By Dorothy Faris

On June 10-11 in Philadelphia, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) hosted “The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future.” The event marked 50 years since Ian McHarg and other leading landscape architects of the time wrote the “Declaration of Concern,” describing the coming environmental crisis and asserting landscape architects were uniquely positioned to address it. The Summit challenged current landscape architects to chart a course for the profession’s next 50 years. To achieve this, the LAF brought together some of the profession’s top thinkers, designers, writers and teachers to engage in a critical dialogue about what has been achieved since the original Declaration and how landscape architecture can effect immediate and long-lasting change in the world.

Some of the major themes that emerged from the event were the need for increased diversity in the profession and the practice; the importance of including social platforms in design and engagement; the importance of working with allied professions to steward the land; and the need to be more outspoken and politically engaged to protect our resources. Summit presentations will be made public in the near future and the LAF is drafting a new Declaration, to be finalized in the Fall.

Mithun was active in the planning of and participation at the Summit. LAF Board member, Deb Guenther, led a lively panel discussion on Social Equity that called for our profession to be empowered, proactive and radical in an effort to engage a broader audience. Panelists argued for honoring and celebrating the diverse leaders we have now as a way to attract more diverse students; being proactive with communities to make equitable projects happen; and to add a social platform to every physical design proposal – because design can be a form of social activism. Six current and former Olmsted Scholars were selected to offer their declarations from the perspective of emerging leaders, one of whom was Mithun’s Tim Mollette-Parks. In his personal declaration, Tim gave a rousing and heartfelt call for landscape architects to lead by listening – to environmental forces and community voices – and engage what they hear in creating meaningful and performative landscapes.

The Summit was an inspiring reminder that as designers we can provoke the public mind, lead causes and create positive change. Furthermore, it served as a reminder that we need to do more than just create great design – we need to be champions, advocates, listeners and policy makers in order to protect our environment in an increasingly urbanized world.