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.
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.