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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

FROM THE AUGUST 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Black people and Black communities bear the outsized impacts of public violence and, now, the deadly coronavirus. Six Black landscape architects and an architect parse the spatial factors that underlie each crisis—often both crises—and the kinds of actions and reforms they hope to see.

With Diane Jones Allen, FASLA; M. Austin Allen III, ASLA; Charles Cross; June Grant; Elizabeth Kennedy, ASLA; Jescelle R. Major, ASLA; and Douglas A. Williams, ASLA.

The idea for the following discussion, which took place the afternoon of June 22, 2020, via videoconference, first arose in late April as it became clear that the pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was doing disproportionate damage in Black communities in the United States: three times the number of infections as white people, and nearly twice the likelihood of death. The health crisis and an economic shutdown were quick to layer onto the existing vulnerabilities of Black people in the realms of health care, employment, wealth creation, community investment, mobility, and access to the virus’s nemeses—fresh air, open space, and daylight. Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, and M. Austin Allen III, ASLA, based in New Orleans and Arlington, Texas, invited four other landscape architecture practitioners and one architect to a call to talk about the spatial inequities to which the spread of the virus is plausibly attributable.

As the virus spread in May, there came national and international attention, two months delayed, to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, by racist vigilantes as he was out for a run in daylight on February 23 just outside Brunswick, Georgia, and the killing of Breonna Taylor, who was 26, in her home early the morning of March 13 by Louisville Metro Police, who were executing a no-knock warrant. Then on May 25, Memorial Day, George Floyd, 46, was murdered in public view by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds in the course of answering a call for an alleged nonviolent offense at a convenience store. As anger gathered and then exploded in street uprisings across the country, the group of designers on these pages had an expanded scope to cover—two plagues, not one, to dissect for causes and complications that bear directly on the callings of landscape architecture, its ideals, and its ill preparedness for such a moment. One plague is novel, and the other is now four centuries with us. (more…)

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BY TIM WATERMAN

Piccadilly Circus on a Friday night. Photo by Tim Waterman.

The most noticeable thing before the lockdown was that a sense of threat had crept into every public encounter, and suspicion of contagion was pervasive. Three days in a row, out for a walk, I saw someone fall. First, an old man in a pork pie hat who fell against a bollard on Gerrard Street in Chinatown, still festooned with red lanterns for the Year of the Rat. Then outside the hoardings for the as-yet-unopened new entrance to Tottenham Court Road Underground station on Oxford Street, a young man was collapsed and unresponsive, being attended to by paramedics. In Covent Garden an older woman fell, carrying a bag of medical supplies—a knee brace, possibly—and when my partner and I instinctively went to help, she held up both hands to keep us at bay. Now the government has shut down, for almost a week and indefinitely, pubs, restaurants, and shops, and has ordered people to stay at home except to shop for groceries or to exercise. People are still wary, but are much better at keeping to the rule of maintaining a two-meter distance from all others at all times. This is relatively easy to observe outdoors, but indoors it turns shopping into an odd, halting dance. But in London, where it is unheard of for people to speak to strangers in public, or even to make eye contact, both of these things are seen to happen daily. (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Honolulu’s popular Queen Kapi‘olani Park is closed as of Friday, March 20. Photo by Timothy A. Schuler.

It could have been a scene from any number of dystopian films: a group of skateboarders, their faces obscured by bandanas or other makeshift masks, slaloming down an otherwise empty street, the landscape around them—the wide beach, the grassy lawn, the parking lot—deserted. In reality, the scene was one of many strange tableaux in Honolulu this past Friday afternoon, following the closure of city parks and beaches in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Hawaii is regularly ranked as one of the healthiest states in the nation, and Honolulu is a bustling city with a noticeably active population. Over the past 96 hours, it has become a ghost town. On Saturday, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed to 48 (which in two days would nearly double), Hawaii’s governor instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers. The next day, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ordered residents and visitors to “shelter in place” and leave their houses and apartments only for essential services, an order that was later expanded to the entire state. By Monday, Waikiki’s famed hotels sat mostly empty, its shops shuttered as if preparing for a Category 5 hurricane. Along Waikiki Beach, yellow caution tape fluttered from trees and lampposts, encircling public areas and blocking access points as if the entire beachfront were one giant crime scene. (more…)

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BY KATARINA KATSMA, ASLA

Traction believes landscape architecture is for the people, not just the elite.

FROM THE MAY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

In 2016, as a student at the University of Washington, Coco Alarcón won the ASLA Student Residential Design Award of Excellence for his project to improve public health by creating food gardens in a soggy, stressed neighborhood in Iquitos, Peru. He was also named a National Olmsted Scholar finalist that same year. Since then, Alarcón, who is Peruvian, has been working with a multidisciplinary collective he co-founded called Traction (formerly the Informal Urban Communities Initiative) to try to bring his ideas to fruition. Using research, community outreach, activism, and educational workshops, Traction works with people from communities where resources are scarce to create new social and physical infrastructure that promotes health, safety, and beauty for residents. LAM recently caught up with Alarcón to find out how his group’s work has progressed toward giving people, as he hopes, the motivation they need to transform their environments into equitable, healthy places.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What are you working on now?
One of our projects is to design and construct a landscape architecture intervention in a slum community and measure the impacts on human, ecological, and environmental health. For example, we are documenting changes in human microbiome, water quality, mental health, and biodiversity of birds and amphibians—among other measurements—in the community to understand the effects of a productive community garden.

Another project focuses on the collection of literature, local experiences, and interviews with experts from different disciplines to understand the role that landscape architecture has on the pandemic of vector-borne diseases related to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, including Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Mulan Primary School in Huaiji County, Guangdong, China, by Rural Urban Framework and the Power of Love. Photo Courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

John Cary’s book Design for Good (Island Press, 2017) details a now familiar formulation for do-good design in the developing world: a western architect working closely with local partners, using local materials assembled to respect vernacular traditions and modern aesthetics, employing local labor trained as an act of grassroots economic development.

From the remotest outposts of developing-world privation to the forgotten places much closer to home that exist in the shadow of great wealth, Cary (the former executive director of Public Architecture, the public-impact design nonprofit) advocates on behalf of design for dignity. “Dignity,” he writes, “is about knowing your intrinsic worth and seeing that worth reflected in the places you inhabit.” It’s not an aesthetic goal, or a measure of the designer’s saintly ambitions. It’s a quality of the users’ experience.

The building types he examines are familiar (Rural Urban Framework’s Mulan Primary School, supportive housing by Michael Maltzan for the recently homeless in Los Angeles’s Skid Row) and totally singular to their contexts. There’s MASS Design Group’s cholera treatment center in Haiti made necessary by the region’s devastation from a 2010 earthquake that piled onto what was already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Also by MASS (Cary’s prototypical standard-bearer for his generation’s inequity-attuned designers) are “maternal waiting homes” in Malawi. These combat sky-high maternal mortality rates by creating lodging near health clinics for women in the last weeks of pregnancy, assuring quality medical attention when they give birth. Atlanta’s BeltLine, the most landscape-oriented project profiled, forges a new landscape type out of a disused rail corridor: a network of greenway trails that loop an entire city.

Quoting the social activist Dorothy Day, Cary calls for places like these that create a (more…)

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Landscapes of Longevity is a feature-length documentary that spans cultural landscape theory, public health research, and narrative filmmaking to answer a question that affects every person: How does one’s environment affect the length and quality of one’s life?

After summarizing how planning traditions engineered physical activity and social connection out of much of the built environment, creating an “obesogenic cultural landscape,” the film seeks out locations that avoided these urban planning pitfalls, and exist as a sort of reasonably modest fountain of youth. While they were landscape architecture graduate students at the University of Virginia, directors Asa Eslocker and Harriett Jameson chronicled the epic stair-climbing abilities of nonagenarians on the Italian island of Sardinia, visited kimono weavers in Japan well into their 10th decade, and walked the lemon groves of Loma Linda, California, with their 93-year-old caretaker.

The film began as a research project by Eslocker and Jameson, which earned a 2014 ASLA Student Honor Award, and later a 2015 ASLA Student Award of Excellence once the pair started to translate their work into a movie. It pays equal attention to how the design of space, both public and private, can affect physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health. And by comparing the environments in each of their case study locations, they uncover a set of landscape features that seem to enhance longevity and quality of life by simply existing: elevated views that enhance attachment to place, visual landmarks on horizons, and opportunities for immersion in nature. Again and again, the common denominator for a long and healthy life is connection: to people, places, and the world around you. As Landscapes of Longevity makes clear, that’s a value set uniquely suited to landscape architects.

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