Presidents Message

David L Stipe, ASLA, LLA

Landscape Architects have a role to play in a wide variety of planning and design projects.  One area of particular interest to me at this point in my career is planning for climate change.  Whether you believe in global warming, climate change or a more modest, shorter-duration warming trend, it is clear that our planet is changing rapidly.  I visited Marin County, California this past weekend and was surprised at how dry the coastal range was this time of year.  The daytime temps were quite high and all but one day was bright and sunny with little or no marine layer, also known as fog.  I lived in Marin for just over a year in the 90’s and have not returned since.  Returning to a place after many years is like seeing a niece or a nephew after many years apart.  The differences in appearance are striking.  You are not there every day watching someplace or someone slowly change.  In Marin, the landscape was noticeably different because of the prolonged California drought.  Reservoirs are severely low and water is quickly become the number one concern for many throughout the state.  Traffic, real estate costs or the prices of common goods were the concerns of the past.  While they are all still real issues, water certainly is the key to survival.

Let’s push back to 100,000 feet and look at the entire west, including Washington State, when we consider the effects of a warming planet.  There are communities, roads, and major infrastructure—including parks—that will struggle with the water issue.  You see, it is not about running out of water for consumption, but having too much, if you subscribe to the sea level rise predictions. Think about your last trip to the coast or to a community on a coastal bay.  How many buildings, homes, roads, utility facilities, etc. sit just above sea level?  As a society, we are already seeing effects of sea level rise with the most obvious example being the storm surge during Superstorm Sandy on the east coast.  The effects of just a modest rise in ocean temps and a slight rise in the sea level had an enormous impact on the severity of the storm surge and subsequent loss of life and property.  Over the remainder of all of our careers and into the future, planning for sea level rise and climatic change is the community planning challenge of a lifetime. 

Back to my introductory example at ground level.  Today there are Landscape Architects working entirely on design of residential landscapes in California solely focused on removing turf lawns.  These practitioners are faced with a backlog of work that keeps them going 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year.  In the near future, it is likely that irrigated landscape will be against local code in the Golden State.  In many communities, that future is today.  Is this fundamental change in landscape development the future in the west and potentially the entire country?  I would guess that we all know which way this trend is headed.  However, our role in this changing global environment can and should be greater than developing native planting plans.  We should be applying our skills and training to developing local code, relocation plans for coastal communities, transportation plans that are more environmentally sensitive as roadways become threatened and need to be relocated, and the list goes on.  As professionals we are trained to see the entire picture.  We think just far enough outside the box that we are less likely to miss a possible solution to a problem that doesn’t quite meet the rules of development.  If we work together at the table from the start with our allied professionals, with engineers, architects and planners chief among them, we can address this global issue and see results that will transform the way we live and engage with the planet.  The rules are quickly changing in all aspects of our profession.  Holding on to old ways of planning, design and community development will not result in solutions that address today’s challenges.  As design practitioners, we can lead the effort to plan for a future that is still rewarding and fulfilling, while addressing the changing planet.

Back to October Newsletter