Landscape Urbanism vs. New Urbanism: Review of the Discussion at CNU 19

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.

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4 Comments

  1. Good post, but I think Landscape Urbanism is concerned with Civic Space, not so much with low T-zones. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of an LU project in T-1 or T-2. As for T-3, I think it’s fair to say that LU is more attuned to what New Urbanists would call a low-density special district (sprawl district) than to normative T-3, which still forms public space, albeit in a wide-open rural manner. Let’s put it this way. Since T-3 is for normative urbanism, it tends to exclude Landscape Urbanism, which tends to be either non-normative (in New Urbanist terms) or Civic, like a square or park.

  2. Thank you for your comments Bruce, I appreciate it. Although LU does not have projects in T-1 to T-3, that is where I feel that their work in the future could be best incorporated. The word ‘civic space’ must be carefully used when referring to the LU. It is civic in that it is passive, government-owned for the most part, but when you think of some of the great civic spaces such as Bryant Park where their is a high level of social interaction, I do not know that LU is there yet. Thank you again for your insight!

  3. Thanks for this analysis John. Your assignment of LU to T1-3 conflicts with Professor Waldheim’s statement at UNC Charlotte last year that New Urbanism was more relevant to fly over country while LU was found in big cities like NYC and Toronto. Perhaps you didn’t mean to tease Waldheim, but HAVING SAID THAT, LU being assigned to T 1-3 is a piercing riposte.

  4. John, first off, I am honored that you read the blog post. I obviously have great deal of respect for you and the Congress for the New Urbanism. I might also add that this year’s Congress in Madison was the single greatest conference that I have been to, and that includes the other 3 Congresses that I attended in the past (Philadelphia, Austin & Denver). Congrats to you, the staff and local host committee for putting on a spectacular event!
    No, I did not mean any disrespect for Mr. Waldheim, I have a great deal of respect for his position and admire his attention to engaging the landscape architecture students of the future. I believe that these discussions will be incredibly valuable to the next generation.
    The discussion of T-1 to T-3 makes perfect sense in terms of ecology for LU. As it was recognized in the discussions of Light Imprint vs LID, density is a BMP in terms of storm water. The most applicable locales for great infiltration and intrinsically green infrastructure is in the T-1 to T-3 sectors of the rural-to-urban transect.
    “Having said that” was an attempt at comic relief. Hopefully, Mr. Waldheim understands and shares my sense of humor, because again I have nothing but respect for Charles Waldheim.

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