Miss Emily Lowery – What Does Landscape Architecture Look Like In A Developing Country?

Miss Emily Lowery. Image credit: www.missemilylowery.wordpress.com


Miss Emily Lowery is a budding landscape architect, graphic artist, nature enthusiast, and a piece-together artist. As part of the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Minnesota, Miss Emily Lowery recently completed a project focused on reforestation and cultural restoration on Mfangano Island, Kenya.

What does landscape architecture look like in a developing country?

I was asking myself this question about half way through 2010. I still am, but I’ve gained a bit more experience and education along the way, so I’ll relay what I’ve learned. If you’re interested in the topic of landscape architecture in humanitarian projects, I’m sure you’ve found that there’s a pretty large gap within international development, which landscape architects should be filling. This is a budding area within the field, but I think we’ll be seeing more of it in the upcoming years.

Is there a need? Can you see the relevance, need or place for Landscape Architects in humanitarian projects?

My own personal involvement with landscape architecture in the developing world began when I was able to attend the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. I was able to listen to a number of natural resource specialists as well as designers and other professionals from the building sector who kept returning to the same subjects: lack of natural resources, poor resource use, growing populations and lack of capital to build infrastructure to accommodate increasing populations. When I began looking at what my capstone (A capstone project is your final project that you work on for an entire school year) project might be, I knew I wanted to hit some of these issues. Over the last 10 months, I’ve been working on a reforestation project with an organization called Organic Health Response based in Kenya. This project looked at the indirect drivers of deforestation, economic and food insecurity, and used a framework of small scale interventions as a means to restore canopy in a way that would provide cultural, ecological and economic benefit to the community. That’s a quick summary of the project.

Essentially, my own personal involvement has come about through research and on-the-ground field work and community engagement in Kenya. At the heart of the project, I was trying to get at the question of: when a community’s livelihood depends upon natural resources that are exhausted, or no longer there, how can/does that community find alternatives to meet their daily needs? Like I said, this is a quick summary and if you want to know more details around my experience, I’d be happy to answer them, just let me know.

Mfangano Island, Kenya – The focus of Miss Emily Lowery’s capstone project exploring afforestation, economics, culture and identity. A project in partnership with the Organic Health Response. Image Credit: www.missemilylowery.wordpress.com

What are the current systems for involving Landscape Architects in the field of humanitarian work?

From what I can see, there really are no systems or centralized agencies that connect LAs to this type of work. There’s definitely a gap here. The work is there, but this line of work is new for LAs and there’s no connective tissue facilitating the growth of the field in this direction.

Do you know any humanitarian based projects, landscape groups, or practices that are focusing on these sorts of projects?

Quite frankly, there really aren’t many landscape architects working on humanitarian projects – though there should be. We’ve traditionally been a rich man’s profession, a service for those who can afford it, yet our skill sets have the ability to resolve a myriad of systemic environmental/cultural issues that are at the heart of development challenges in the developing world. One excellent example of a humanitarian based landscape architecture group is the Kounkuey Design Initiative, they’ve done quite a bit of humanitarian work and are a pioneering LA group dedicated to it.

Kibera Public Space Project 01 (KPSP 01) by Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). KDI transforms impoverished communities by collaborating with residents to create low-cost, high-impact built environments (Productive Public Spaces) that improve their daily lives. Image credit: www.kounkuey.org

Further reading:


Ashar Macha (Platform of Hope)

Creating Public Green Space on a Lake in One of the World’s Densest Slums

Korail, with a population of 120,000, is the largest slum in Dhaka, a city of 15 million and the capital of Bangladesh. Korail is surrounded by a growing wealthy neighborhood and a lake, increasing density precludes public space. In response to these conditions the Platform of Hope (Ashar Macha) was first proposed in 2007 by landscape architect Khondaker Hasibul Kabir of BRAC University. New to the area, Kabir moved in with family of Fourkan Pervez . Together they transformed the home into a lush community garden.

Platform of Hope, built over Gulshan Lake, with Dhaka in the background. Image credit: Cooper-Hewitt

Ashar Macha (Platform of Hope) by Kabir at Korail Bosti, a Documentary by Quamr ul Hasan  – A little initiative can bring about such a change to people particularly to a family and children in a so called “slum” in karail, dhaka, bangladesh.

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Further Reading:



The Book: (Re)Designing Nature – Current Concepts for Shaping Nature in Art and Landscape Architecture

Redesigning Design for Positive Social Impact

Redesigning design for positive social impact – Trained as a landscape architect, Lucinda Hartley, spent two years working in slum communities in Vietnam and Cambodia before launching Community Oriented Design — [co]design studio. Selected as a 2010 Youth Action Net Global Fellow, Lucinda has been focusing on how young people can be engaged and mobilized to improve cities and space through community oriented design. Lucinda’s commitment to sustainable design has been recognised by awards from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), Asialink Dunlop Fellowship and the internationally competitive Endeavour Executive Award. Moreover in 2009 she was profiled in FuturARC Magazine as one of the top 30 design sustainability pioneers in Asia-Pacific.

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CoDesign Studio is a social enterprise that works with communities to design and implement neighbourhood improvement projects. They create new types of public spaces – from community gardens and public furniture, to parks, schools, community facilities, housing and broad-scale planning strategies.

They value social outcomes as much as physical outcomes. Working with people of all ages and backgrounds, their process focuses on positivity, shared values, practical action, and meaningful relationships.

CoDesign Studio’s mission is creating inclusive and empowered neighborhoods. They aim to empower communities to become involved in visioning, shaping, owning and implementing projects that improve neighborhoods. CoDesign exists to address social exclusion by revitalizing neighborhoods. Social exclusion affects people in every town and city. Disadvantaged neighborhoods typically have poorer quality public spaces, and people are therefore less safe and less healthy.

Floating Gardens, Cambodia: CoDesign Studio is working with Cambodian organisations Agile Development Group and Rural Friends for Community Development to design floating vegetable gardens for floating villages on Lake Tonle Sap. Village residents do not own land, and therefore cannot grow vegetables. Many families eat vegetables only once per week, with obvious health impacts. Image credit: CoDesign Studio

Their approach moves away from over-reliance on government and service providers as the sole provider of public infrastructure, and instead focuses on people. They specialize in working with ‘hard to reach’ communities: people who face barriers to traditional methods of engagement, and therefore require a different approach. CoDesign focuses on low-cost, high-impact activities and interventions for improving neighborhoods. Outcomes improve both the physical environment, through better parks, accessibility, and safety, while also the social environment, by building social cohesion and giving communities a forum to gain the skills and confidence they need to create change.

Text source: CoDesign Studio
Further reading: http://codesignstudio.com.au/

Re-Vegetation Haiti – What Can LA offer?

Deforestation in Haiti is a severe environmental problem. In 1923, over 60% of Haiti’s land was forested; by 2006, less than 2% was. Haiti unfortunately holds the tile of being the poorest country in the western hemisphere. This poverty can be directly related to the condition of Haiti’s environment. Additionally the absence of vegetation places Haiti at risk to natural disaster, such as in  2004 when Hurricane Jeanne tore through the island nation leaving over 3000 dead in its wake. A main casualty factor being landslides.

Satellite image showing deforestation in Haiti. This image depicts the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right). [Source NASA]

In January 2012, Trees, Water & People partnered with Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), Positive Legacy, and Jam Cruise passengers to plant thousands of fruit trees in northern Haiti using SOIL’s EcoSan compost (human manure, aka “humanure”). These citrus trees have matured and are now being planted. But, local community organizations and farmers’ cooperatives have asked us to do even more to help make the mountainsides of Haiti green with trees again.

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They envision planting 10,000 more seedlings, hosting tree-planting days, and creating an agricultural education center that can host EcoSan workshops, agricultural exchanges, and research. The tree seedlings planted through this effort will be sold at an affordable, subsidized rate to local farmers and cooperatives who will then plant them in the mountains of northern Haiti

Projects of this nature are fundamental in elevating the poverty conditions in Haiti. They also raise a large issue. This being that Haiti has a vast journey to recovery, and that introduction of new housing stock only does not lead to a sustainable future.

Is there an opening for the Landscape Architecture community to become involved, contributing a skill set to help create a revitalized landscape for Haiti, one that is needed for economic recovery in this devastated country?

There needs to be great consideration given to the landscape or environmental conditions of Haiti. Without such planing exposes the nation to avoidable danger in the form of natural disaster. An example of a landscape architect addressing issues of this nature is Elizabeth Mossop with her work on how landscape architects can protect New Orleans. With notable projects such as Bayou Bienvenue where she calls for the restoration of critical wetland forests that once protected the city

Elizabeth Mossop is a landscape architect addressing issues such as natural systems as protect from storm events. Image credit: Spackman Mossop + Michaels

There should also be consideration given to understanding long-term infrastructural requirements and responding planing undertaken, so that new communities do not find themselves without basic provisions. These basic provisions are usually strongly landscape related, consider food and water. This is: agriculture and productive land, and natural systems catching, filtering and cleaning water.

These are some avenues that landscape architecture community help can address in humanitarian situations such as Haiti. There are many opportunities for landscape architects to be involved in humanitarian situation of this nature.

Further reading:

To make a donation to this project please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org/10000trees

Public Open Space as Emergency Shelter – China

Open Space as Emergency Shelter in China (Yuan Capital Wall Park, Beijing)

China has a history of using public open space as emergency shelters. These parks provide independent infrastructure and services such as water, sanitation and electricity. Citys such as Beijing have dozens of shelters all across the city that can provide tenting areas, fresh water and medical attention. The shelters are designed for the public in case of earthquakes, epidemic diseases, flooding, fire and other situations.

Civil emergencies are inevitable events. Landscape architects through planning and design can prepare cities for times of disaster. Approaching planning and design of open space as emergency refuge is an established field in China and Japan. Analyses of these spaces can inform the planning and design of open public space in other cities and communities around the world. Improving access and awareness of ‘safe’ open space with installation of independent infrastructure and supplies at key locations as well as ground improvement techniques enables effective response to emergency events. This aims to improve function and efficiency during the phases of emergency events, ultimately resulting in the saving of human life and alleviation of suffering.

I feel there is opportunity for landscape architects to familiarise with the phases of disaster events and their relationship to open space.

Text by: Ryan James Aldrich

Interesting links for further reading: