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Inside the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Future-Forward Declaration

By Katherine Leonard

On a summer evening in 2016, 700 of the top designers and thinkers in landscape architecture gathered in Philadelphia to reflect on the past five decades in the field.

Climate change. Rapid urbanization. Species extinction. Inequity. Faced with the irreversible impact of these issues, leaders convened to identify sustainable solutions and inspire a call to action for landscape architects around the world.

New Landscape Declaration Event Details

The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future was held in Philadelphia in 2016. Image courtesy of the Landscape Architecture Foundation.

A Call for Change, Then and Now

The result of that gathering, the New Landscape Declaration, was a bold call to action — but it wasn’t the first of its kind. The organization behind this effort, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), created a similar document just after its founding in 1966. As Heather Whitlow, LAF’s Director of Programs & Communications explains, “One of the organization’s first initiatives was The Declaration of Concern. That document cited the environmental crises of the time and positioned landscape architecture as a profession with a critical role to play in solving those issues.”

At Independence Hall in Philadelphia in June of 1966, Ian McHarg and a group of landscape architects convened by the Landscape Architecture Foundation drafted the Declaration of Concern. Image courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Fifty years later, in the midst of the tumultuous 2016 election, LAF kicked off preparations for its semicentennial celebration. “Our anniversary landed at an opportune moment,” Whitlow recalls. “It really was the time to start talking about these issues and to give landscape architecture a mandate, similar to what they did in 1966. We have a critical role to play, and we need to step up and start taking on these issues.”

With that, LAF organized The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture. Leaders in the field were invited to speak, not about their latest projects, but rather on issues of a larger scale. “I don’t think we quite knew what we were putting together until we were in the midst of it, just how hungry everyone was for the opportunity to think bigger, to get out of the day-to-day work they do and talk about these issues,” Whitlow recalls. “The issues that came to light are critical and urgent.”

At the Summit’s conclusion, the LAF team synthesized those talks along with feedback from the event’s 700 attendees, to create the New Landscape Declaration, a modern-day call to action for landscape architecture.

LAF Summit Event Photo

In June of 2016, leaders in landscape architecture gathered once again to discuss the past and future of the field. Image courtesy of the Landscape Architecture Foundation.

Planning for Real Change

“When we released the New Landscape Declaration in late 2016, we took it out into the world, sharing the video and holding discussions,” Whitlow says. “After talking with 6,000 landscape architects on the road, we realized that people loved having these conversations, but they also wanted some tangible next steps.”

New Landscape Declaration Group Discussion

Barbara Deutsch, CEO of LAF, hosting a discussion on the New Landscape Declaration at Coen+Partners in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Coen+Partners.

“In landscape architecture, and I’m sure many other disciplines, students really do want to change the world,” Whitlow says. “And then there’s this period where you go into the actual profession, and maybe you’re not able to take on everything the way you thought you would.”

To motivate these aspiring world changers, LAF began breaking the issues into manageable steps. The result was the Action Plan, a list of 10 ways, big and small, that students and professionals can answer this urgent call — from “Design with Purpose” to “Vote.”

Screenshot of Call to Action

The New Landscape Declaration is a call to action encouraging landscape architects around the world to do their part.

Inciting Action Among Landscape Architects

“We hope that by being a place to keep these issues on everyone’s radar and sharing stories of success and inspiration, that we can motivate others to do everything in their power to move the needle on these issues.”

To inspire action on a larger scale, LAF needed a digital tool to convey the issues at the heart of the New Landscape Declaration. “We wanted our website to reflect this future focus of the organization, to reflect the innovation, and to incorporate the new things we’re doing,” Whitlow says. “We also wanted to bring our vision, values, and stories of impact to the forefront.”

Designed by TOKY, the new site positions LAF, and the profession as a whole, as true world changers. “Anyone who visits is going to see those messages and gain a better understanding of who we are as an organization and the bigger issues landscape architects are trying to address,” Whitlow says. 

LAF Impact Stories

The new Landscape Architecture Foundation website documents stories of impact inspired by the New Landscape Declaration.

The website creates a sense of urgency in users, who are driven to examine the issues, explore real stories of change from peers in the field, and take action themselves. “This new web platform is helping us share those stories,” Whitlow says. “We need to get those inspiring stories out.”

“This new web platform is helping us share those stories. We need to get those inspiring stories out.”

– Heather Whitlow, Director of Programs & Communications, Landscape Architecture Foundation

One action and one story at a time, the Landscape Architecture Foundation is making strides toward a more sustainable and equitable future for all. “With the New Landscape Declaration and website, we want to move from talking about the declaration itself to moving people to take action. We are looking at 2019 as our year of action.”

To find out more about the New Landscape Declaration and how you can take action, visit lafoundation.org.