The benefits of trees are obvious:
Trees provide shade, cool the environment, store and sequester carbon emissions, capture and mitigate polluting aerosols and other damaging particulates, facilitate biodiversity, aid soil conservation, and promote human health both physically and mentally.
But how do these facts stand in the face of a continuous loss of natural assets in urban environments today? How can we support the green infrastructure of our cities if the benefits of trees are undervalued and to a large degree, intangible?
This is where i-Tree makes its way into the scenery, an app developed by the USDA Forest Service that tabulates the financial value of trees, translating its holistic assets into clear monetary terms that everybody can understand–and process objectively.
There has been a need to quantify our urban forest resources–and once quantified, they become easier to assess, and ultimately, to manage. Imagine street trees converted into dollars and cents: their powers of filtration and healing on the urban scale configured into a numeric amount. Imagine a tree that is worth more than your house.
How does this alter your perception of the green-leafed fixtures that surround us?
Check out this great piece from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies:
In the wake of real climate change, we need to think of ways to renew and reinvigorate our forests and trees, and begin to respond to perturbations in the ecosystem that are changing the ways landscape naturally regenerate.
Our forests can be one of the very first places to start.
A conversation we started on Land8 was spotlighted as a featured discussion!
We posed the question to landscape designers: Where did your passion for landscape originate? What were the narratives you had growing up that defined and transformed the world into a canvas for you?
We generated some really interesting, compelling responses (some even recounted poetically), all of them which may be read here.
The responses we received are really exciting to us, as they help to accomplish two important things:
1) Affirm the vitality and social value of the profession (it can often be viewed pejoratively and is misunderstood as being “exclusive” or culturally/socially unusable or irrelevant).
2) Uncover a common thread that connects all of us–professionals and nonprofessionals alike. The land is our home to all the meaningful experiences we’ve had–and will continue to have. It’s the book of all our experiences, the story of which, of course, is forever ours to write.
We encourage you to read this discussion here and join us in the conversation by telling your story in the comments. Share with your friends. Let’s rethink our connections and relationships to the land.
Without it, where else would we be?
It’s not the most compelling combination of words.
But as seemingly tedious as the topic may be, most people don’t realize that soils are as vital to our existence as food and water. After all, most of the foods we consume literally come from the ground.
No conversation about environmental sustainability would be complete without an urgent discussion of soil biology. Healthy soils are fundamental to landscape regeneration and to our overall well-being. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising news.
However, the realities of an increasingly parched and uncultivable landscape are weighing oppressively on agricultural and environmental efforts, restricting productivity and damaging microbial habitats that benefit our ecosystem. We owe our attention to these developments.
Below is a video that explains the critical role soils play in our daily lives. Sensitive, pressing, and intermittently poetic, it explores an overlooked problem that threatens our footing in the world.
We often tango with the question of “sense of place,” and what it really means. It’s a topic which we confront invariably in our day to day work, and as a landscape design firm in Portland, OR, it’s something which we seek to define, understand, and to potentially rewrite– in a sense. After all, a “sense of place” is different for everyone, and it’s really a bit of a dynamic entity.
There’s no one correct usage of the term. We can say that “sense of place” is some singular attribute (or attributes) that some geographic spaces have and some which do not. We can say that it may not even have anything to do with geography at all, but with a certain feeling or a recognition that we carry within ourselves. In either case, what results is a nebulous but compelling sensation of attachment, belonging, ambiguous nostalgia–a kind of rightness. A formless, shapeless feeling, yes, but essential.
A “sense of place” is also, we believe, history in passage, sweeping into the next moment, then the next. Landscape is an important vehicle that guides, records, and naturally becomes a part of that passage. Spaces develop and grow unto themselves in the courses of nature: anthropological expansion, climate patterns, topographic shifts. These are what can make places unique and what endows them with history. We believe landscape is an ancient tapestry onto which stories are woven–stories which never quite disappear either. A “sense of place” is a sense of existence, of all the things that once existed, are existing now, and will exist. It can be a sense of being, of finding your piece in the story and employing your position in an ideally infinite history.
It’s interesting to see the transformations taking place today in modernist landscape architecture that seem to work towards planting a sense of place where it may not have existed before. Take this article, for example, on contemporary landscape “interventions.” Renowned modernist spaces, characterized by their austere sparseness and hard lines, are being redesigned and renovated to essentially supply a better sense of place, where people can relax and linger. While there is some debate over the legitimacy of these redesigns and whether or not they threaten an important part of the country’s architectural history, these projects and transformations reveal a contemporary agenda that attempts to answer and reinscribe (in our eyes, at least) the question of “sense of place.” Thomas Balsley says in the article, “Many of the spaces were impressive, very modernist, but not very human…[y]ou didn’t feel like you were part of the story.”
What’s your definition of “sense of place”?
Whether we like it or not, the majority of us spend a large part of our time within the strict enclosure of our rooms, our offices, work spaces, and most other places we go to. In the midst of all the urban greening and community forestry that’s been trickling through our cities, it remains a small detail to many that nature and its amazing benefits can be incorporated into design indoors, within the four walled enclaves that hold so many of us in thrall.
Maintaining plants inside can be a simple task with low-maintenance African violets that flower continuously in good conditions, the hyper-autonomous and stalwart aloe vera plant, or the dramatic and architectural snake plant which filters air pollutants such as formaldehyde. Talk about plants that pull their weight.
Check out this great article about 10 fabulous houseplants that work as living air purifiers.
There’s an interesting debate going on about the role of landscape architecture in response to a rapidly evolving tech culture. At Secter, we believe this digital landscape can be a part of a healthy, developing ecology as it allows us to continue to think and to probe the possibilities of the land. When public spaces are being replaced by desktops and computer chairs, where does landscape design fit into the scene?
There’s an illuminating article about technology and its appropriation of the landscape, and though it was written in 2006, there’s a great deal of insight about this seeming fundamental shift away from people’s experience and appreciation of nature to a state of “videophilia,” which is defined by the article as a series of sedentary activities involving electronic media. Read the full article here.
While this supposed smartphone culture may occupy a bigger space of our experience today, landscape design has always been a reflection of people’s needs. It strives to continuously engage and involve the public by creating safe, usable, and easily maintained places. Technology seems to be less of a challenge than it is an inducement to keep spaces healthy, and we see various examples of this in the form of urban greenery and the rise of green walls. Now the question is, can these “natural elements” actually replace nature? The likely answer is no.
What we do is more relevant than ever: to convey the dynamism of the land, to facilitate rich experiences of nature, and ultimately to articulate the sense and recognition of place.
Because, frankly–without it, where would we be?