“Nature surrounds us, from parks and backyards to streets and alleyways. Next time you go out for a walk, tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighborhoods.”
– David Suzuki
April is World Landscape Architecture month, a celebration of how our designed outdoor environments touch our lives.
What exactly is landscape architecture, anyway? It’s not the world’s best-understood profession, that’s for sure. The American Society of Landscape Architecture defines it as: “the planning, design, management, and nurturing of the built and natural environments. With their unique skill set, landscape architects work to improve human and environmental health in all communities. They plan and design parks, campuses, streetscapes, trails, plazas, residences, and other projects that strengthen communities.”
Think about the forested trails, small city parks, river or lakeside promenades, and other outdoor spaces that we take for granted as part of our daily existence. They were intentionally created and fostered by visionaries who wanted to make our communities better. Once upon a time, all were proposed, designed, built, and cared for over time. They’re not chance leftover spaces — they’re the vibrant and essential living rooms of our daily existence, the very heart and soul of what makes our communities places where we want to live. Our outdoor spaces of all kinds give us social connection, opportunities for quiet reflection or healthy recreation, and critical protection against the impacts of climate change.
We should do everything in our power to support and protect them — for they support and protect us.
Much of the enchantment of how we experience an outdoor space comes from precisely what we don’t see – the designer’s hidden hand. New York’s Central Park might look from the air like a pristinely preserved pocket of nature, when in fact it is an astonishing achievement in engineering by Frederick Law Olmsted. Bernheim, too, did not always look as it does now – our Arboretum has wonderful intentionally designed spaces like the Edible Garden, Olmsted Ponds, and Playcosystem. And much of what makes up our more than 16,000 acres was land that had been damaged through harmful farming and industrial practices but has been gradually restored over the years. Human hands can desecrate, but they can also restore.
Creating a great outdoor space means having the optimism, patience and foresight to make a gift of living beauty for many future generations, and the faith that its heirs will cherish and care for it in that same spirit. And although this month we’re celebrating landscape architecture, it’s also important to note that it’s not just the landscape architect’s design concept, but the subsequent decades or even centuries of careful tending and stewarding that keep it wonderful.
So, on behalf of all of us at Bernheim, I’d like to wish you a happy World Landscape Architecture Month. May you celebrate it by spending at least a little more time than usual this month in a state of wonder, enjoying a beautiful outdoor space — whether here at Bernheim, at your local neighborhood park, or a new place somewhere out there in the world that calls out to you. You might just find it habit-forming.