Majora Carter, the landscape architecture profession, and the Landscape Institute Awards

    Sometimes the best people to talk about what a profession does isn’t the people who do it.
    In fact, sometimes it’s the people who never even knew it existed that do it best. If you see first hand what a profession can achieve and if you can capture that feeling in the way you talk about it, then chances are you’ll have something compelling to say. Something that might hint at the true potential of a profession, even help steer its future.
    Majora Carter is one of these people. Three weeks ago the urban regeneration specialist told a packed Bloomsbury Big Top full of landscape architects how their profession had changed the fortunes of a community once considered a regional sacrifice zone. She was talking about where she grew up, Hunts Point in New York’s South Bronx. A poor neighbourhood in the grip of flawed urban policy; a place of waste dumps and processing facilities, with a toxic river running through it.
    What Carter needed, she said, was a way for her community to see itself differently. The redemption of the Bronx River would prove to be it. But if Carter knew where she wanted to get to, it wasn’t until her partnership with New York-based landscape architect Signe Nielsen that she got there. Hunts Point Riverside Park, as it’s now known, is the realisation of Carter’s vision and a lesson in the democratising power of a landscape.
    Hunts Point gives people something to be hopeful about, she says. Not because it is some nice to have amenity space for the community, but because it is the basic infrastructure of equality, and a refutation of what she calls “sacrificial landscapes” – the idea that landscapes in one part of the city can be sacrificed for the good of those in another.
    Equality. Hope. Democracy.  Any profession should be proud to have that calling card. They are universal themes, intrinsically bound up in the spaces we share – and landscape architecture by its very nature should be a conduit for all of them.
    As host of the Landscape Institute Awards that day, Carter was, of course, preaching to the converted. But I guarantee that of the more than a million people who have watched her TED talk ‘Greening the ghetto’, most of them won’t have been landscape architects, or have even known what one was. But she told them a story about the difference they can make – and that’s what any great project or profession has: a story.
    So what is landscape architecture’s? If you take Majora Carter at her word, it’s nothing less than the ability to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be.
    – About the author: George Bull is a freelance journalist with a special focus on land-use, planning, public health and environment. He tweets @MrGeorgeBull.


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