This past Saturday evening, I attended a much-anticipated discussion about landscape urbanism, sometimes referred to as ecological urbanism, at the annual Congress organized by the CNU, or Congress for the New Urbanism, in Madison, Wisconsin. The Landscape Urbanism’s own Charles Waldheim led the discussion with a lecture on the history of the movement and how it does, and does not, relate to the new urbanism. According to Mr. Waldheim, Landscape Urbanism is a movement that is ten years old and was created in large part by the Harvard GSD, or Graduate School of Design.

Charles Waldheim presents the Landscape Urbanism at the closing plenary session at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Madison. 4 June 2011.

Much of what Mr. Waldheim had to present was illustrated examples of the intention of the landscape urbanism, including a lot of the work from the offices of Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, Inc. and James Corner’s Field Operations.
One of the very few examples of constructed work includes the High Line in New York City. The High Line is a beautiful reuse of otherwise undevelopable space providing ecological relief in an extremely dense city of nearly 20 million people. The High Line, and it’s “sequel” The High Line 2,” have recently been critiqued by Urbanist Witold Rybczynski in The New York Times.

The Landscape Urbanism, in my professional opinion as a landscape architect, is a useful movement in terms of a compliment towards the lower ends of the rural-to-urban transect (T-1, T-2 and T-3). This is the portion of the transect that the CNU, as an overall organization, is not as well-versed as the upper echelons of the transect. As the landscape urbanists continue their current endeavors in the United States and abroad, hopefully they can begin to understand the formulas currently practiced and proven by the new urbanists for the past 30 years.

Le Corbusier's Towers in the Park.

There is a fear, which was emphasized by Andres Duany, that landscape urbanists are confused regarding the difference between ‘urbanism‘ and ‘density‘. Case in point, high-rise buildings in a sea of parking, or in a sea of parks, do not provide the social experience that makes the place walkable nor livable. In most instances, these conditions create greater dependence on the automobile.
As I previously referenced one year ago, I wrote that my hopes were that the landscape urbanism movement could find a way to be included and incorporated into the new urbanism movement. I felt that there were many things that we could learn from each other. Upon seeing the confrontational and seemingly dismissive attitude toward the new urbanism by Mr. Waldheim, I am afraid that this is far from reality.
Because this is unlikely, my hope for the coming years in the Congress for the New Urbanism is that the CNU and it’s multi-disciplinary members can learn from the positive achievements of the landscape urbanism and perhaps incorporate an ecological, and edible landscape, where it is applicable, without jeopardizing the urbanism. “Having said that,” the CNU membership already includes several Landscape Architects, Civil Engineers and Urban Planners that are ecologically friendly– and that are already incorporating the ecological framework into a fabric of quality urbanism. Perhaps it is not the incorporation of the landscape urbanism that we should focus on. Perhaps there should be greater fostering and promotion of our own initiatives and suggestions, such as the Rainwater-in-Context Initiative and the Light Imprint Handbook.