Landscape Architects: our next generation of political leaders?

If you’re one of the many who have been shocked about the recent election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States and what it means, several questions arise.

Now seems like a good time to reflect on the qualities and real world professional experiences many of us wish our political leaders had.

While those of honesty, integrity, passion and leadership are self-evident, the increasing complexity of our urban areas – the site of residence for 65 per cent of the world’s population by mid-century – means professionals with a key understanding of how to negotiate these territories should become one of, if not the, essential characteristic to lead.

With that in mind, could landscape architects be those professionals who deliver this next suite of leaders to the world?

At the fantastic Festival of Landscape Architecture in Canberra, the vexatious issue of politics and landscape architecture boiled away as one of the festival’s key underlying themes.

Landscape architects design the world outside, the spaces of the city between and within the built environments. They design the public spaces for all people and successfully navigate the challenges and opportunities of complex systems.

While working to protect and sustain environments, they seek to creative positive experiences for all. Often seen as the collaborators that hold trans-disciplinary teams together, landscape architects are instrumental in negotiating with and between stakeholders regarding the built environment.

Further to this, the largest growth area for landscape architects within Australia is within the local and state government spheres. These roles complement and extend upon the traditional remit of landscape architectural practice by effectively positioning the complex natural, cultural, social, economic complexities about ‘the city’ at and within the forefront of government decision making.

Landscape architects become advocates and change makers for ecological and cultural systems operating at the local level, and affect broader regional changes to make real change on the ground for all people.

Landscape architects have the potential to shape a future that is sustainable, that encourages healthy and diverse natural and built landscapes, and that supports resilient communities. Political leadership needs the skill of the landscape architect in managing, planning and designing quality places. It needs our willingness and proven ability to collaborate with other professions and communities and our advocacy to drive reconciliation between human activities and the environment.

In line with the pressures of rapid urbnaisation, cities are having to deal with the increasingly complex problems of climate change, food security, loss of global biodiversity, loss of character and disparate social equity.

Politicians and national leaders of the future will have to be able to weave together these prevalent issues with the political, economic, environmental and social territories of our cities.

Within the (now) geological epoch of the Anthropocene, Donna Haraway’s quote ‘staying with the trouble’ provides perhaps one of the strongest indicators for how our global humanity might achieve a liveable future. The rhetoric our politicians need to aspire to is, a ‘making-with’ – that is, reconciling both a living and dying together within a damaged world as a collective, rather than the self-making of any one individual.

Landscape architects are collaborators, stewards of the world, and one of the essential creative intelligences vital in the (re)making of our cities and regions. If ecology in all its dimensions (environmental, social, cultural, digital and economic) has become the new platform for activism, then landscape architects must be at the forefront of being the carrier of this for future generations.

I vote staying with the trouble.

This article was first published on sourceable.net on 21 November 2016.

Image: Adelaide Design Manual, City of Adelaide

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