Landscape Architects Convene at EcoVillage

by Liz Walker

On a warm Saturday in mid-September, twenty-five  people gathered for a day-long  advocacy Learning Event, held on-site at TREE, EcoVillage Ithaca (EVI) third neighborhood.  Before the day was over, it was clear that the first professional learning event for landscape architects held at EVI was a big success.

Environmental Advocacy in Central New York: How are local advocates for sustainability and environmental responsibility influencing change in the region? was co-sponsored by the Upstate American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and LEARN@EcoVillage (LEARN).  Landscape architects from around upstate NY earned six continuing education credits for their participation in the day.

ASLA participants enjoy a lunch break at TREE (photo credit: Jim Bosjolie)

Michele Palmer, PLA, ASLA, the main organizer of the event, said her goal was to get landscape architects to think outside their profession. “Usually we talk to each other. I wanted to challenge landscape architects to interact with planners, scientists, public officials and activists, and see what brings them alive around environmental responsibility.”

Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist, author and activist who has been a key organizer in helping to protect New York State waters from chemical contamination and shale gas fracking, gave a keynote address that, according to Palmer, was a “call to arms for landscape architects to get involved.” Participants were impressed with her knowledge and passion.

David Kay, a long-time LEARN advisory board member, gave an overview of EVI, and the educational work of LEARN.  “It was a great opportunity to share more about EVI, and there was a lot of interest,” he said. “It was a very engaging day.”

One of the favorite parts of the day for many participants was an hour and a half walking tour of EVI after lunch. Led by knowledgeable residents Bill Goodman, Town Supervisor for Ithaca, and Francis Vanek, engineer, author, and Cornell lecturer, participants were impressed by the scope of EVI’s environmental commitment, but also its social and economic benefits. They also appreciated the personal touch of visiting the homes of several residents.

Palmer, who led a year-long research study of EVI, wrote an extensive case study for the prestigious Landscape Architecture Foundation. “By gathering really solid data on the environmental, social and economic benefits of communities like EVI”, Palmer said, “We can argue persuasively for our work that it is performance-based, not just green-washing.” She continued, “It’s nice to have evidence that not only do innovative projects not have to cost more, but in fact can cost less.”

Berry Farmer Katie Creeger talks to Landscape Architects (photo credit: Jim Bosjolie)

A closing panel moderated by Palmer included Kay, Goodman, and Scott Whitham, ASLA and former LEARN advisory board member. “It was very interactive,” said Kay. “Landscape architects looked at how it applied to their own context. It was a good, rounded finale to an engaging learning experience.”