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Publication Date

2010

Abstract

The idea of social justice as being intrinsic to landscape architecture can be traced back to Frederick Law Olmsted, who perceived urban parks as sites of egalitarian mingling of the classes, and fresh air and green space as a basic human right. Olmsted’s ideas were radical for his time; in the 21st century, in an increasingly urbanized world with a growing rich-poor gap, they are nothing short of urgent. The presence of accessible, safe, quality green space offers people the opportunity for active recreation, for enjoying clean air in an oasis far from city noise and traffic, and for outdoor socializing. Because property values and quality/quantity of green space are invariably strongly linked, shortage of green space is most frequently an issue in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Thus, shortage of green space means restricted opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation or social interaction, which means a lower quality of life for those who cannot afford neighbourhoods with significant private or public green space. Therefore, the question of how to increase the quantity and quality of green space in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods becomes, by nature, a social justice issue.

The ownership and control of urban green space falls into three categories: private, public (municipal) and semi-private. This third category refers to shared urban green spaces, such as community gardens and courtyard commons. While these spaces may be designed with professional assistance, the initiative, sustainability and longterm maintenance are the responsibility of the residents who use the space. These spaces are semi-public in the sense that multiple families or groups use them, but semi-private in the sense that the user group is restricted either to the members of the organization who started the garden, or in the case of a courtyard common, the residents of the building. We can refer to this category as community-supported green spaces (CSGS), and they supply specific and important benefits to the urban population that are not provided by private or public green spaces. These include stronger social capital, improved health as a result of more time spent outside in active garden work, reduced crime, a higher level of stewardship and responsibility on the part of residents towards their environment, and more stable urban neighborhoods. Because of the interactive, participatory nature of both their planning and their ongoing maintenance and use, the gardens present a unique opportunity for citizens’ participation and democracy. CSGS can also be an innovative way of increasing the quantity of green space in neighbourhoods such as some of Budapest’s inner districts where per –person green space can be as low as half a square meter. My work since 2005, has been focused on making communitysupported green spaces not only an integral part of Budapest’s green space system but also a core element of landscape architecture education. The three key theories:

By employing methods of participatory planning and community-based design, landscape architects are in a unique position to significantly improve the quality of life in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods. Given the increasing gap between wealthy and poor and the rapid urbanization affecting the world’s population, addressing the significant difference in green space quantity/quality between rich and poor neighbourhoods is critical.

Community-supported green spaces, such as community gardens, are inherently sustainable because their creators and users have a strong sense of ownership and responsibility towards them that they would not have for a public green space designed and built in the traditional top-down manner. CSGS have lower incidence of vandalism and also offer active ongoing uses – for instance, urban agriculture – not traditionally available in public parks. Participatory planning also gives a voice to populations not traditionally part of the decision-making process, and further contributes to building a democratic, transparent society.

Implementing community design projects and theories of social justice in landscape architecture at the university level sensitizes the students at an early stage to contemporary urban planning and social issues, and enhances their planning skills. Learning participatory planning techniques, participating in real fieldwork involving community-based design and/or working with minorities, the economically disadvantaged or populations with various disabilities enhances their communications skills, strengthens their sensitivity as designers, builds critical thinking skills, and improves the quality of spaces they produce. Participatory planning then becomes a natural, seamlessly-integrated mainstream element of their approach as landscape architects, instead of an experimental, alternative methodology. The added social dimension also contributes to the profession’s overall value. Social justice as a dimension of landscape architecture education is slowly becoming part of many landscape architecture programs in the U.S., most notably the University of Washington’s design-build program and the University of Colorado Denver’s Learning Landscapes program. Many European landscape architecture faculties begin to take this approach as well, including the International Master’s of Landscape Architecture carried out jointly by Weihenstephan University of Applied Sciences and other institutes. In summer 2009, for example, the IMLA students carried out fieldwork at a Roma community in Slovakia.

Connecting the three above theories: Landscape architecture education that includes participatory, community-based curriculum and fieldwork improves the quality of design and enhances the landscape architecture profession itself. It elevates the significance of the landscape architect’s role in the community, as well as improving the health, environmental quality and livability of our urban neighbourhoods through community-supported green spaces.

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