Landscape architects fight climate calamities with resilient design

The Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden in Chicago not only helps cool the nearby area but also produces over 1,000 pounds of vegetables. Photo: Scott ShigleyThe Gary Comer Youth Center Roof Garden in Chicago not only helps cool the nearby area but also produces over 1,000 pounds of vegetables.
Photo: Scott Shigley

Earlier this year the Obama administration called for better community resilience by improving building codes and standards, and the American Society of Landscape Architects has responded by creating a guide on how to design communities facing certain natural disasters.

The key point that ASLA makes in its guide is that it is crucial for landscape architects to work with nature, instead of against it, by creating multi-layered systems of protection with scalable elements that can fail safely during a calamity.

Disasters can cause traditional systems to fail completely, leaving a community crippled, but having a multi-layered system allows the vital functions to persevere. As these events become more common with changing climates, ASLA hopes to help design and retrofit communities with resilient landscaping.

Along with being cost-effective, resilient landscape planning allows communities to adapt and recover from disruptive events, such as flooding, much faster.

The guide looks at ways landscape design can mitigate natural disasters such as drought, extreme heat, fire, flooding and landslides. It also looks at how biodiversity loss harms the ecosystem and how to counter act it.

Each topic is broken down by the current threat the problem poses, how resilient design helps communities, the co-benefits of that design, and what role landscape architects perform.

There are numerous case studies for each disaster showing how the design plays out in real life. Links to other resources such as studies about green roofs and the benefits of urban forests can be found under the extreme heat section.

ASLA created the Resilient Design Guide with the help of Alexander Felson, assistant professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale School of Architecture, and Kristina Hill, associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design at the University of California at Berkeley.

Nina-Marie Lister, graduate program director and associate professor at Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning, Nate Wooten, landscape designer and Kongjian Yu, founder and dean of Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape, also assisted in the creation of the new online guide.

The guide can be accessed here.

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