Last week’s American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) annual meeting focused on how nature and design are central to healthy communities

ASLA Annual Meeting 2010

With over 130 presentations from various government officials, topics covered included: the environment as an affecter of public health, green roof design, streets as public space, using wetlands to treat waste water, and plenty of planning issues.

Here are our top five highlights:

1/ Using Constructed Wetlands to Treat Wastewater
Paul Knowles, an engineer from Natural System Utilities, explained how constructed wetlands that feature indigenous plants are “the kidneys of landscape”, removing the toxic elements in wastewater. He said: “Through phytoremediation, we can mineralize the waste components. Then, wastewater moves through multiple sub-soil layers, including a permeable one, that further remove pollutants through various natural elements like filtration and sedimentation gravel.”

2/ Biophilia: An Innate Emotional Affiliation with Nature
To create biophilic landscapes, landscape architects may need to restore for the future, not the past. “We need to create the original ecosystem plus its eventual trajectory,” said Keith Bowers, ASLA, Biohabitats. The result may be “new novel ecosystems” that the planet has never seen before.

3/ Dr. Richard Jackson: “We Are No Longer Creating Wellbeing”
Dr. Richard Jackson, chair of the school of health at UCLA and former head of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), argued that there are now deep-rooted structural issues with the built environment that are creating epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and depression. He said the current way of dealing with these structural issues is only increasing the annual amount of spending on healthcare (now at 17 per cent of US GDP), instead of addressing the underlying problems. “We are medicalising the problems people are experiencing with their environment. We are no longer creating wellbeing.”

4/ Complete Streets: Streets as Public Space
Keith Robinson, ASLA, Caltrans, said: “The goal of Complete Streets is “to make streets part of public space”; green and attractive. Streets should be community assets, compatible with built and natural environments, and reflect the balanced needs of the community and transportation networks.”

5/ Quantifying the Benefits of Beauty
Mithun, a Seattle-based landscape architecture firm, is guided by a set of principles that form its integrated approach to sustainable design. Susan Olmsted, ASLA, described their approach as: “One principle is ‘do the math’; another is ‘create beauty and spirit’. Olmsted said metrics and aesthetics were interdependent — “it’s the mix that creates a sense of purpose.”

For full reports on the presentations, visit the ASLA affiliated blog, The Dirt.

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