Landscaping the Developing World 1

Monday, February 24th, 2014
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Historically, landscape architects have worked in the developed world creating urban parks, university campuses, commercial and retail developments, and private gardens.

Central Park in New York City offers a prime example of landscape architecture in the developed world. In fact, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, was one the first people to popularize the term “landscape architect.”

Over the years, the profession as a whole followed his lead, working on landscapes in western nations while gradually embracing more infrastructure and land use projects. In Australia, Parliament House in Canberra is a large project typical of its era.

Work in the developing world was less common, due partly to less recognition of the value and expertise that landscape architecture offers, a lack of funding, and a lack of projects. Now, however, three major factors are pulling landscape architects into the developing world: climate change, population growth, and urbanization.

Climate change is leading to more extreme weather events worldwide. Flooding, for example, has worsened in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Exacerbating the flooding is the loss of wetlands to development, dumping, and random filling in.

“In the last decade, 30 per cent of (Colombo’s) water retention capacity has been lost,”  said Rohan Seneviratne of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence and Urban Development.

Because wetlands naturally absorb rainwater and then release it slowly, they can mitigate flooding.

This effect is commonplace worldwide; random, unplanned development has destroyed the systems that protect us from flooding at the same time that severe weather has worsened. Meanwhile, increased urban populations mean more people in a given area are negatively affected when disaster strikes.

As cities grow due to population growth and urbanization, the process of resource destruction continues. Water management becomes more challenging and more critical, with less land available for use. Landscape architects have a crucial role to play in managing land use and designing cities to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and extreme weather.

In Colombo, for example, the city is creating more lakes and canals to absorb and distribute the rainwater. The World Bank is providing more than $200 million to dig new lakes and improve existing canals and lakes. This is the expertise that landscape architecture provides.

According the the site Landscape Architecture for Humanity, “for growing cities, landscape architecture has the ability to lessen flooding….The profession brings its design and ecology lens to storm water projects aiming to provide richer solutions compared to solely engineering options.”

The challenges of urbanization and population growth

The most intense population growth and urbanization will occur in the developing world. A 2013 World Bank report estimates that the urban population in developing countries will reach 4 billion by 2030, as compared to 2 billion in 2000.

As 10 million Chinese residents move from the countryside to the city each year, the Chinese government has been planning for urban growth, necessitating the involvement of landscape architects. In conjunction with the 2010 Beijing Olympic Games, for example, a multidisciplinary team built Beijing Olympic Forest Park. While healing a deeply polluted site, the team constructed Yangshan Hill from construction debris, created a four-acre wetland that filters runoff, floodwater, rain, and residential grey water that flows into a newly build 20-hectare lake.

Indeed, the need for design professionals in China is robust. The American Society of Landscape Architects has reported that more than 10,000 landscape architecture, planning, and architecture students are enrolled in more than 200 schools in China.

It would appear that, worldwide, the need for landscape architects has never beer greater. Rather than allowing random development of slum areas that make no allowance for public parks or water management, countries such as China have embraced the ability of landscape architects to deal with climate change, urbanization and population growth.

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  1. Peter Monro

    Points well taken