Considering the Nature of a Scientific Revolution in Landscape Architecture

(Canada)Patrick Mooney   2016-05-08 16:08:01

(Canada)Patrick Mooney

Abstract: Within the profession of landscape architecture, concern for maximizing the performance of multi-functional and sustainable landscapes is growing rapidly and may well become the dominant paradigm of the profession. This is an important and necessary development that responds to urgent global needs and requires the application of scientific knowledge to landscape planning and design. This paper traces the historic development of this paradigm in landscape architecture and discusses its growth and trajectory with respect to the nature of scientific revolutions. With this discussion as context, the author contends that maximizing landscape performance requires the application of scientific knowledge throughout the design process, if the fullest range of benefits is to be achieved and that, with this understanding, synergies may be achieved rather than trade-offs having to be made. Having more biodiversity and less air pollution does not mean accepting a weaker landscape experience and having less recreation and restoration. This paper will discuss the application of scientific knowledge to place design using a methodology that seeks to maximize the fullest range of ecosystem services. A new sustainable waterfront community in Vancouver, British Columbia will be used to illustrate the connections between scientific understandings, ecosystem services, and sustainable design practices with particular emphasis on the use of empirical science to support human experience and wellbeing.

Key words: landscape architecture; sustainable landscape; paradigm; scientific knowledge; synergies; landscape performance

1 The Nature of the Problem

Human population is currently approaching 7.4 billion people, of which 54 percent or 4 billion live in cities. By the middle of this century, the number of mega cities of more than 10 million is predicted to rise sharply as world population increases to as much as 10.9 billion people, with 66 percent, or 7 billion people, living in cities (United Nations, 2015a; 2015b). These increases in population and urbanization are happening at a time when demands for food, water and energy are increasing, global ecosystems are in decline and there is an urgent need to adapt to climate change (MEA, 2005; Beddington, 2009).

Climate change will result in shifting biomes and increased desertification (Hulme and Kelly, 1993; Gonzalez et al., 2010). Because most of the world's largest cities are on sea coasts, rising sea–levels will require either abandonment of large areas of the cities and/or major infrastructure works and urban redevelopment to protect and maintain these cities and their populations(Vellinga and Leatherman, 1989). If, as is expected, current and increasing levels of environmental degradation are exacerbated by climate change, the numbers of eco refugees fleeing their countries due to poverty, population pressures and environmental degradation will exceed that of refugees currently fleeing the Middle east. Sea level rise in Bangladesh, Egypt, China, and India is estimated to imperil 131 million people and elsewhere another 50 million are at risk through threat of drought. These environmental refugees will be another of the foremost issues of our times (Myers, 2002).

2 The Response from Landscape Architects

Landscape is the nexus of natural and human systems (Liu et al., 2007) and landscape architecture has been defined as the science and art of systematically planning areas of land, designing outdoor spaces and conserving natural environments to support human needs (Marshall and Hiss, 1981). The activities that landscape architects may undertake include the sustainable planning and design of: the public realm of cities; major infrastructure projects (including those that respond to climate change); regional open space systems; local and nationwide ecosystem restorations and the development of new resilient ecologies that deliver a broad range benefits to humans. Undertaking this range of work will necessitate vision, advocacy and the development and application of new scientific knowledge. The profession of landscape architecture is well suited to respond to these most pressing issues of our times and a vigorous, creative, and positive contribution by landscape architects to these issues can portend a highly valued and revitalized profession.

3 Science in Landscape Architecture

The application of science in landscape planning and design is not new. In the 19th century Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), the Scottish biologist and geographer, turned town planner, advocated the use of regional surveys in support of planning that integrated urban and rural ways of life into a regional civilization. His ideas were later to influence the Regional Planning Association of America in linking regional planning to the necessity of understanding regional ecology (Steiner et al., 1988).

The publication of Ian McHarg's Design with Nature in 1969, codified a rational scientific approach to environmental planning that used landscape inventory and analysis to identify those lands that were best suited for a particular land use, while fulfilling human demands on the landscape(McHarg, 1969). Although now adapted to Geographic Information Systems and Geodesign, the principles and methods developed by McHarg and others during this time are still widely used.

Parallel to this, scientists were developing what has become known as the Ecosystem Approach to landscape management (Kay and Schneider, 1994; Walter–Toews, Kay, and Listner, 2008). This was based on the premise that scientists should play a greater role in the management of natural areas because they had the greatest understanding of these areas as ecosystems. The goal of the Ecosystem Approach was, through adaptive management, to increase the resilience and therefore sustainability of natural systems (Kay and Schneider, 1994; Christensen et al., 1996).

Landscape Architect, Jack Ahern (2006) presented a transdisciplinary planning method for landscape ecological planning to achieve sustainable landscapes(Fig. 1). His method used understandings of landscape and cultural processes, and stakeholder goals to develop potential planning scenarios that were then evaluated before the most preferred option is implemented (Mooney, 2014). One of his central tenets was that landscape planning is based in substantive knowledge drawn from natural and/or social sciences and he advocated that landscape ecology provide the substantive knowledge base for sustainable landscape planning.

Recent Trends in Landscape Science. The development of sustainability science, beginning in the early in this century, led to further advancements in the application of science in landscape architecture. The essence of sustainability science was that achieving sustainability required preserving the life support systems of the earth while meeting human needs and that achieving this goal would require transdisciplinary knowledge that incorporated nature and society across the fullrange of scales (Kates et al., 2001). In landscape research, planning, management and design, the advent of sustainability science led to the recognition that the complexity of sustainable landscapes would require the development of broadly applicable scientific principles and landscape performance indicators for use in designed landscapes (Musacchio, 2009).

Ecosystem Services and the Ecosystem Services Approach. A new approach to landscape assessment and planning emerged in 2003 with the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). Ecosystem services are the diverse array of material and immaterial goods and services that people obtain from ecosystems (MEA, 2005). In compiling this report, more that 1300 hundred scientists used ecosystem services as the performance indicator of the health of the global ecosystems. They concluded that the economic development of the last 50 years had been achieved by degrading global ecosystems and that 60 percent of the global ecosystem services studied had declined in this time period (MEA, 2005).

The MEA produced a typology of ecosystem services that classified individual services as provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. Provisioning services provide direct utilitarian value and include food, water and medicines derived from native ecosystems, as well as fuel and fibre. Regulating services include the regulation of air quality, climate, and erosion. Supporting services maintain the production of other ecosystem services including soil formation and oxygen production and include services that support the maintenance of biodiversity. Cultural ecosystem services yield non-material, benefits like recreation, aesthetic experience and improved cognitive functioning (Hassan, Scholes, and Ash, 2005; MEA, 2005).

The structure of any ecosystem determines its processes or functions. These, in turn, produce the ecological services that have resulting benefits to humans (Fig. 2). Because ecosystem services depend on the structure and functions of the ecosystem, any alteration to that structure and function will alter the services and benefits that it produces (Wu, 2013; Mooney, 2014).

The Ecosystem Services Approach The authors of the MEA developeda planning method known as the Ecosystem Services Approach(ESA) by adapting the framework of the Ecosystem Approach to incorporate ecosystem services as indicators of sustainability (Haines-Young and Potschin, 2009). Its goal was to preserve ecological integrity while meeting human needs by preserving ecosystem services. The method is similar to that shown in Figure 1 in that it applies transdisciplinary knowledge to planning, incorporates stakeholder input and produces and evaluates alternative planning scenarios. It differs in that the assessment of ecosystem services is used as the substantive knowledge that supports planning (Mooney, 2014). Within the ESA, the application of ecosystem services as indicators of sustainability is intended to better integrate policy and management at the landscape scale to maintain human wellbeing.

4 Multifunctional Landscapes

A related development to the ESA has been the attempt to increase the multifunctionality of designed landscapes. Sustainability science led to an increased emphasis on understanding how human interventions affected ecosystem function. In landscape planning and design this resulted in call that human impacts be measured (Musacchio, 2009). Since the MEA publication in 2003, ecosystem services have become widely used to measure ecosystem function in designed landscapes. This has led to an understanding that sustainable landscapes are multifunctional landscapes, as measured by their production of a range of ecosystem services (O'Farrell and Anderson, 2010; Selman, 2012) and ecosystem services are increasingly considered as a key concept in linking environment and society in a range of environmental disciplines (Wu, 2013).

In the United States two systems have been developed to measure the multifunctionality of designed landscapes. The Sustainable Sites Initiative, or SITES, was developed by the American Society of Landscape Architects, in partnership with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and other partners (Sustainable Sites Initiative, 2009a; 2009b). It uses a number of best practices to incorporate a broad range of ecosystem services into designed landscapes. The Landscape Performance Series (LPS) is a series of cases studies developed under the auspices of The Landscape Architecture Foundation. In each of these case studies, at least one ecological, economic and social ecosystem service, produced by the design, is quantitatively measured (Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2015). Both systems support multifunctionality, as measured by multiple "performance indicators", as way of increasing landscape sustainability.

From this brief overview of science in landscape architecture, it becomes apparent that, for the most part, the incorporation of science in landscape architecture has been at the regional scale as applied to planning and management and the substantive knowledge base for research and application has been landscape ecology (see for example Ahern, 2006; Nassauer and Opdam, 2008; Forman, 2008; Musacchio, 2009). With the exception of traditional site analysis, the application of science to sitelevel landscape design, as seen in LPS and SITES, is a relatively recent development.

Solving the type and magnitude of problems facing the global community today will require application of knowledge from multiple disciplines. At the site-scale, practitioners can rely on implementing a process such as SITES or learning from the LPS. More site specific sustainable landscape design could require the designer to have the resources to consult experts from a variety of disciplines or it may be possible to incorporate more function and ecosystem services into designed landscape through the application of ecosystems services as the landscape performance metric. The following case study is illustrative of this approach.

5 Case Study: Southeast False Creek

In 1991 the Vancouver City Council initiated the development of a model sustainable community on a former waterfront industrial site at the edge of the city’s downtown. The Council wanted to create a place where people would live, work, play and learn in a community that would maintain and balance the highest possible levels of social equity, liveability, ecological health and economic prosperity (Bayley, 2014).

The resultant Southeast False Creek Community (SEFC), incorporated a number of Sustainability Best Design Practices (SDPs) that led to its designation as a LEED Platinum Community. By 2020 when the project is complete, it will contain between 11,000 and 13,000 housing units with mixed-use commercial space in approximately 1.5 million square feet of built space. The waterfront edge of the site will be a continuous public promenade and cycling route and the site will contain 10 hectares (24.7 acres) of public open space.

The first phase of the development, comprising 7 hectares (17.3 acres) was analyzed for this case study. SDPs relating to landscape design were evaluated as generators of ecosystem services with assistance from PWL Partnership Ltd, the landscape architecture firm that designed the site's public realm.

The SDPs used in the planning and design of the project were divided into four categories: Water Flow, Built Infrastructure, Habitat and Vegetation and Place Making. The ecosystem services produced by design strategies in each of these categories were appraised using literature reviews and site analyses and/or quantitative calculations and are shown in table one.

The SDP's included a neighbourhood energy system and transit oriented design. Fifty percent of rooftop areas are extensive and intensive green roofs. The one-third of the site that is devoted to public parks and waterfront greenway that contain a wetland and riparian area, a community garden, and a created habitat island. All stormwater is channelled through the wetland or a bioswale before it enters False Creek, an ocean inlet (Fig. 3). A complete street tree plan was done with innovative tree planting standards, including extensive use of tree cells alongside streets and other paved areas. The majority of plants are drought tolerant native plants. The public realm is designed for flexible use and social interaction (Fig. 4).

The category of Water Flow included the bioswale and wetland that capture and treat all stormwater that is not captured on roofs. These water flow SDPs support the ecosystem services of provision of fresh water, mitigating soil and water pollution and supporting marine biodiversity by cleansing stormwater before it flows into the marine environment.

Water falling on roofs flows to underground cisterns where it is used for toilet flushing and all site irrigation. The intensive green roofs support food production. These Built Infrastructure SDPs support the ecosystem services of freshwater, moderation of the impacts of extreme weather and seasonal drought mitigation. Figure 5 shows the surface water flows over the entire site.

In the category of Vegetation and Habitat, there are 10 identifiable, habitat types in SEFC, including a habitat island that has had remarkable success in supporting marine species. Each habitat type contributes a different set of species to the site and increases its overall biodiversity. Habitat and Vegetation also support the benefits of food, moderation of extreme weather, drought mitigation, air purification, carbon sequestration, pollination, seed dispersal, protection from ultraviolet rays and erosion control and play important roles in human mental and physical well-being (Kuo, 2010). This is illustrative of the fact that, by using this ecosystem services approach in site design, synergies may be achieved rather than trade-offs having to be made. For example, Vegetation and Habitats support biodiversity and mitigate air pollution, while simultaneously they may support the recreational experience and mental restoration. Applying ecosystem services to achieve sustainable landscapes does not mean that it is necessary to accept a weaker landscape experience.

The place-making category was intended to create spaces that would be highly valued and used by the public and the community. Sense of place can come about through community use over time or it can be derived from the aesthetic quality or distinction of the space (Lynch, 1960; Thwaites and Simkins, 2007). The site design incorporated public pedestrian circulation into the private open spaces of the individual developments. This provided flexibility of use and promoted walkability. Individual spaces within the site were designed for aesthetic appearance, creating a sense of the region and to accommodate groups of all sizes. The design of the public realm has worked to foster a high intensity of use by people of all ages and a wide variety of uses, from large public diner parties and grade school outings.

Table 1 shows that the sustainability SDPs do support biodiversity and ecosystem services. It illustrates the kind of ecosystem services created by each category of SDP and shows that some SDPs have greater effects than others. Certainly, the most ecosystem services were derived from the Vegetation and Habitat category of SDPs. However, the design interventions intended to support place making yielded very high cultural ecosystem services- including a sense of cultural identity, recreation, mental and physical wellbeing and freedom of choice and action.

6 Case Study Conclusions

High density urban sites such as these are generally considered to support little biodiversity and ecosystems services. The post occupancy evaluation of this site has shown that the site planning and design may make a significant contribution to both ecosystems services and biological diversity. The SDPs did support biological diversity and multiple ecosystem services and different practices support different services. Most notable was the wide range of cultural ecosystem services supported by the site design. It is a key finding that while the good ecological design may support provisioning and regulating ecosystem services, site planning and design that allows a range of choices for individuals and groups can contribute more to cultural ecosystem services than most natural sites of equivalent size.

In future research, establishment of baseline inventories and more post-construction monitoring would support more detailed measurement of biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban development.

7 Where to now?

Landscape architects, working with other experts in a transdisciplinary approach to designing sustainable cities and urban regions and in responding to environmental degradation and climate change, will require a working knowledge of a wide range of scientific disciplines, including, landscape ecology, soil science, plant physiology, physical geography, geomorphology and environmental psychology.

A number of issues confound the development and application of science in landscape architecture. Among these are the facts that:

·There is a lack of resources to fund expert transdisciplinary teams, except in larger, government-funded projects.

·The application of science in the design of landscapes is invisible to the public and other stakeholders.

·Decision makers often lack the scientific knowledge to support the design of multifunctional landscapes.

·Even in so-called sustainable city design it is common to accept a very narrow range of goals, for example, being carbon neutral.

·Current education in landscape architecture does not include a wide knowledge of applicable science.

·The profession does not yet share a scientific paradigm. Of this list of problems, only the last two are directly under the control of landscape architects in academia and professional practice. Although desirable, it is not possible to substantially increase the level of scientific knowledge in landscape architecture curriculum without adding to the required years of study. This is not likely to happen as it would make the profession a less desirable option for prospective students and there is not yet a universal acceptance of the idea that practitioners of landscape architecture require greater scientific knowledge. One option would be for Landscape Architecture Programs to offer more two-year research degrees, while continuing to offer the undergraduate and graduate professional degrees that they now offer. Initiatives like SITES and LPS and the ecosystem services application discussed in the case study here allow practitioners and future practitioners to adopt a scientific approach without requiring a great deal of scientific knowledge, although more is always preferable.

8 Developing a Science Paradigm in Landscape Architecture

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn (1970) defined the development and operation of a scientific paradigm. Kuhn believed that scientists all held the same paradigm or "constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by members of a given community" (Kuhn, 1970 p 175). He argued that the scientific paradigm was so pervasive that only by accepting it could one become a member of the scientific community. Furthermore, the paradigm determined what was studied and how results were analysed.

The strength of the existing scientific paradigm is such that any anomaly or discovery, which it cannot explain is ignored. Only when the preponderance of evidence to the contrary is overwhelming are the theories of the new paradigm re-examined and accepted. When this occurs a scientific revolution follows with the old paradigm being abandoned and a new one adopted.

9 The Paradigm of Landscape Architecture

The definition of landscape architecture as both an art and a science is perhaps as close to the paradigm of landscape architecture as exists today. I posit that the profession should continue in this quasi-paradigm and attempt to make it more explicit in our schools and professional organizations. While the concern for maximizing the performance of multi-functional and sustainable landscapes is growing rapidly in landscape architecture, the profession is in constantly changing. For example, the number of recognized areas of specialization within the profession continues to increase, e.g. digital technology, therapeutic design, ecology and restoration, urban design, sustainable design, water management etc. Each of these new specializations grew out of recognition of new problems and/or the application of new knowledge.

In recent years landscape ecology, sustainability science, and most recently multifunctionality, as measured by ecosystem services have emerged as part of the substantive scientific knowledge base of landscape architects. Landscapes are now understood as dynamic systems that deliver multiple cultural and natural ecosystem services. Multifunctionality has become the goal of landscape planning and ecosystem services are increasingly used as the metric of multi-functionality and sustainability (Selman, 2012). This same knowledge is now increasingly being applied at the site scale, though SITES and the LPS.

That is the science part of the landscape architectural paradigm. The other part of this quasi-paradigm concerns those landscape architects who consider themselves more artists than scientists. This orientation is not trivial. The landscapes that our profession creates, however multi-functional, must also be beautiful, for the only truly sustainable landscape is one that people love enough to steward, protect and manage indefinitely. The cultural services of a landscape are not less important than its natural ecosystem services. In our necessary efforts to apply science to the development of sustainable landscapes, we must not forget the value of beauty in the landscapes we plan and design.

As world population and urbanization increase, so too will the carbon emissions and climate change; water and air pollution; resource depletion, loss of habitats and arable land with attendant societal change and social unrest (Steiner, 2011). Mitigating or resolving these problems will require application of a wide range of knowledge from both the natural and social sciences. If successful, this will allow future generations to meet their material needs, while maintaining the planet's life support systems. But our profession must continue to be cognizant of the fact that human beings also have non-material needs. Experiencing beauty, or finding pleasure in our surroundings through our senses (Holtzschue, 2012), is one of those fundamental needs. The craving for beauty and the making of art has been part of human culture since prehistoric times and has implications for the planning and design of urban open spaces (Hancock, 2015) since increasing peoples' use of urban openspace would certainly improve their physical and mental health outcomes (Maas et al., 2006; Kuo, 2010).

There is, I think, little doubt that landscape architects can play a role in solving the most pressing problems facing today’s world and that this will increasingly require the application of transdisciplinary knowledge. Our use of science in these tasks is still evolving. Despite recent developments, no end state to our understanding and application of science to landscapes is yet in sight. However, in our conviction that the solution to our problems lies in the application of science to sustainable landscapes, we must not contribute to the abandonment of beauty. The landscapes we develop must continue to meet our functional needs and feed our souls and our profession must continue to explicitly value both.


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(Canada)Patrick Mooney, PhD in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan, Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of British Columbia, registered landscape architect, his research and teaching deal with maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban regions to support regional sustainability

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