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Visiting Stepford and Other Side Trips Along the Way . . .

By George Schmok

After 20+ years of reading and writing all things landscape, I've noticed a few trends along the way. Some are good, some are weird and some are just plain disturbing . . .

Let's start with the good . . . These would be things like the movement toward better water awareness. Using water efficiently has become an art form. Irrigation is best delivered at the root level. Water is captured, retained, filtered and reused through landscape design . . .

What was once xeriscape is now sustainable. Sustainability has certainly proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. It makes sense and makes for great landscape design. The profession has taken the challenge seriously and continues to incorporate sustainable elements into the plans. Many of the parks in this issue are great examples of sustainable design.

Green roofs are getting more and more attention. Even though some green roof projects are working better than others the whole concept is taking root across the roofs of the world. It makes sense on so many levels . . . Providing habitat where there once was tar and asphalt, green roofs are also insulating buildings against both heat and cold, using less energy while creating more oxygen . . .

These are good trends. Throw in healing gardens and downtown open space, and lots of things add up good . . . What about the weird . . .

Christo is at it again . . . Spurred by his, ok I'll say it, "weird imagination" and led by previous and equally imaginative doughnut gardens and bagel gardens et. al., some things landscape are going surreal. Maybe the profession is like a teenager begging for recognition. After all, 100 years old is not that old in terms of rating against the older professions.

Landscape Architecture has certainly passed the adolescent stage, but may very well still be in the teen years . . . if not the early years of adulthood. Wind Harps fall into this category but they are still kinda cool and art is art . . . As such there is still, and maybe will always be, a call for taking the non landscape and landscaping it.

Some things good, some things weird . . . And some things disturbing . . .

Take for instance gated communities and homeowner associations and what I call "Stepfordisms" in development.

On page 16 is an article called "New Urbanism and the Smart Code". Citing one project in particular, Seaside, Fla., the case is made that codes and enforcement are making landscapes better, more efficient, cleaner . . . But what I see is a sterile look of manicured grounds made more for driving by and admiring than for interacting and providing community.

I remember LASN doing a feature on a similar development (see February LASN page 78, "Community Design") and thinking: where are the children? Where are the dogs and the gardens and the unattended bicycle . . ?

Sure, many codes can and do protect the public from bad design. Many codes protect the designers from lawsuits and liabilities. I don't even mind the point system where tree counts are based on parking spaces, but man . . . It scares me to see whole communities that look like rubber stamps, where, heaven forbid, the neighborhood kids get an inkling to build a fort out of old cardboard boxes . . . Or worse yet, neighbor Tom wants to plant roses instead of petunias . . .

Clean streets, matching house colors, high property values and car-less driveways have a kind of plastic feel that just isn't natural. However, it is a trend that you have power over. Landscape Architects must protect themselves from themselves and remember that "landscape" and "natural" have a symbiotic relationship, and crisp and clean is not what Olmsted wrote about in his Yosemite report . . .

So, go ahead and design your hearts out, be creative, be adolescent, be resourceful and mindful of the earthly elements, but please continue to fight for nature and all that is natural . . .

--God Bless

George Schmok, Publisher



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December 7, 2019, 4:49 am PDT

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