“In fact, one can argue that discourses such as landscape urbanism or ecological urbanism –while being radical with regard to their biophysical topographical interventions – are conservative with regard to socio-economic territorial change.”

– Greet de Block¹

While still mulling over the many ideas presented at the Beyond-Ism Conference hosted by SLU Alnarp from October 19 – 21, 2016, the lecture by Greet de Block and discussion with Nina-Marie Lister afterwards has stood out time and again.  The lecture, entitled “The (Post-)Politics of Resilient Design: A History of the Present,” brought up an important critique of how well Landscape Urbanism has actually done in embracing socio-political issues.  

In general, the conference seemed focused on re-examining definitions of Landscape Urbanism and clarifying its context within the history of Landscape Architecture and the overall design field.  As Charles Waldheim put it, Landscape Urbanism is now middle-aged and the conference felt like an academic birthday party reflecting on the life of the movement thus far and what promises it holds for the future.  However, De Block, Lister, and concluding remarks by professor emeritus of Urban Planning at Braunschweig University of Technology, Tom Sieverts, all tactfully called out the field on falling short of it’s goals of interdisciplinarity with regard to social issues.  “(Landscape Urbanism) urgently needs a new encounter with Social Sciences,” Sieverts warned and after de Block and Lister’s talk the case seems viable.  In browsing De Block’s work, her paper “Ecological infrastructure in a critical-historical perspective: From engineering ‘social’ territory to encoding ‘natural’ topography”, offers a thorough case for re-examining the position of the socio-political and socio-economic within the work of ecologically-minded designers.  Lister reiterated this point succinctly, stating that when stakes are high and ambiguity rife, we need to extend our peer community.

Each of these scholars pointed out that as Landscape Urbanism has gained ground, publicity and acceptance, it should be capitalizing on its voice to challenge the politics and socio-economic policies within urban development.  Landscape Urbanism should be looking at itself critically as well as taking a critical stance against government norms and socio-political-economic conditions.  While landscape architects have the ear of the powers that be, why not push the discussion further.  As De Block concludes,

“Instead of designing smooth harmonious surfaces in which politics are foreclosed or black-boxed under the zeal of complexity and sophistication, ecological infrastructure should be constructed as a radical, progressive project, as a space of confrontation and conflict, where political antagonism can be played out and the ‘socio-ecological common’ can slowly be composed out of a multiplicity of voices.”²

  1. De Block, G. (2016). Ecological infrastructure in a critical-historical perspective: From engineering ‘social’ territory to encoding ‘natural’ topography. Environment and Planning A, 48(2), 381.
  2. 385.