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Three Inextricable Predictions:

Future Implications for Landscape

Architectural Planning, Design, and Management: A Vision-quest

By Dr. Jon Bryan Burley, Associate Professor

Landscape Architecture, Michigan State University


To ponder the future and to gain some reassurance concerning the appropriate geographical direction to find a suitable location for their villages, the Mandan First Nation people, living in the Missouri River Valley, would have the elders gather in the medicine lodge, a structure on the north side of an open plaza, across from the Ark to Lone Man, and partake in a vision-quest reconnaissance above the Missouri River Valley, searching for a new village location. Once the vision-quest was complete, scouts would travel in the direction indicated by the elders to confirm their findings. Before the village "ran-out" of timber and agricultural resources, the village would move to the new location. This practice by the Mandan is an example of traditional spiritual and ceremonial landscape planning and site analysis activities practiced by a Native American culture for possibly over 1,000 years. While I am not of Mandan heritage nor even of First Nation descent, I am a scientist and designer who has cherished and enjoyed the intellectual richness that the First Nations bestow upon the Americas. Consequently, I have gone on my own vision-quest to travel portions of the world and earn several university degrees in landscape architecture, thereby gaining some insight into the future of landscape architectural planning, design, and management for the readership of Landscape Architect and Specifier News.

There are many issues and topics related to the future; however, I will discuss three inextricable themes: global warming, global population growth, and the contributions that science may make in assisting professional landscape architectural planning, design, and management activities.


There is great interest in global climatic conditions and stabilizing the earth's atmosphere (Flavin and Tunali 1996). Nevertheless, halting the increase in global warming requires cooperation between competitive societies and economies. Those groups contributing little to global warming but highly impacted by global warming are insisting upon controls to stabilize the atmosphere. In contrast, nations contributing to global warming who are impacted by warming but are greatly impacted by controls to stabilize the atmosphere would prefer to delay implementation of these controls. Developing a solution that all parties will agree to will be as difficult as it would have been to stop the colonization of the Americas or to stop hunter gatherers from being agriculturists, each of which may have positive and negative attributes.

The Future--Prediction Number 1: Global warming will not be halted.

As opposed to spending resources to stop the potentially inevitable, one might wish to consider what opportunities exist as the climate becomes warmer? For example, the oceans will rise and much of the world will be like the coastline of the Netherlands. I believe that planners and designers will find much work in relocating facilities, fortifying coastlines, and creating adaptable environments.

The climate and coastline is in much more of a flux than individuals often accept. For example, Davis (1983), describes changes in the eastern half of the United States of America over the last fourteen thousand years. The oceans were lower then and some plants held refuge from the glaciers on the continental shelf. As the climate became warmer and ocean levels rose, these plants migrated north and west, such as the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) which arrived into Michigan during the beginning of Pharoic Egypt. Other plants resided in the south and moved northward. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) only arrived in New England at the time of the Roman Empire. Ballard (2001) suggests that about 7,500 years before the present, as the oceans rose, the Black Sea was flooded in a catastrophic event to a depth of an additional 500 feet. Door and Eschman (1970) describe the changes in Lake Michigan that have occurred since the glaciers began melting, where at one time the waters in the Lake Michigan Basin drained south into the Mississippi drainage, then the basin "dried-up" with only a river connecting the Lake Michigan Basin with the Lake Huron Basin as the water drained into the Ottawa River, and finally the present conditions where the waters in the Lake Michigan Basin drain through Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. As one studies the earth, one learns about numerous hydrological events affiliated with water, climate change, and with humans (Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee 1987, Allen, Burns, and Sargent 1986, Schwartz and Thiel 1973, and Christopherson 1962). From a scientific perspective, these changes, whether man induced, or intervened by man, they are all natural, filled with outcomes and environmental impacts.

I have always believed that the clues to the future currently exist in the past and present. During my vision-quest, I had the opportunity to visit St. Malo, France, a coastal town with a fortified city along the English channel in Brittany. There, an inland port is managed by a lock and dam system. Along the shoreline, the tides drop over 30 feet. During low tide, boats can still enter and leave the inland harbor through these lock and dams. In the future, as the oceans rise, it may be possible to build locks and dams to keep the sea out and preserve the current configurations of the inland landscape. For example, beyond the Golden Gate Bridge of the San Francisco Bay, a series of earthquake and tsunami resistant locks and dams could be built to raise ocean going boats into the Pacific Ocean or to lower the same boats into the bay. Humans could manage the Bay's water levels, sediment flow, and life form exchange through the gate into the ocean. Of course it will not resemble the Bay area of the 1650s, but it may be as interesting and could certainly be managed for its complexity and to ensure its diversity.

The Future--Prediction Number 2: Global population growth will not be halted.

The extent and size of the human population is also of interest to environmental planners, designers, and managers. Livernash (1994) illustrates the contemporary predictions, concerns, and environmental issues affiliated with population growth. Culture to culture, human to human and gene to gene competition spurs the population growth. People who do not do not have children or who have few children are potentially at evolutionary "dead-ends." Like a positive feed-back loop, only those individuals who have children survive and thereby perpetuate more people. Many cultures and nations believe have adopted this perspective and continue to grow, swamping less populous groups with overwhelming numbers.

The last 10,000 years of human history is the story of this activity. As long as there are groups who see advantages in population growth, there will not be a decline in the numbers of people on this planet. While some motivated groups may foresee the importance of developing a sustainable, limited population, as they practice population control, their lines will be "over-run" by the rest.

Because population growth will not be halted, every square meter on the planet's surface, plus the airspace and some subsurface environments will be completely planned, designed, and managed. Planners and designers will find tremendous opportunities in the preservation of special environments and the optimization of the multiple uses across the planet. The landscape designs of the next century will often address and be sympathetic to the cultural precedent of the local area and region. Many more designs will be generated to fit into a setting as opposed to becoming monuments clashing with the surroundings. In the 21st century, special landscape settings may develop a stronger sense of permanence and stability. In the future, there will be a greater interest in the individuality and unique landscape qualities of each and every site and a much greater interest in the broad diversity of wildlife and vegetation possibilities for a site, including the green nothings. There will be more pressure for designers, planners, and land managers to incorporate landscape ecological considerations into every site design project. Each parcel of land will have to be integrated into the greater landscape ecological setting. The lessons learned concerning recycling, the wise use of materials, pesticides, and non-renewable resources will be applied on a greater scale. In some ways, the 21st century may become the era of landscape sustainability, but the world will be filled with people. In addition, people-flight by the wealthy will continue as they move away from urban, and suburban settings consuming landscapes with fabulous amenities such as settings with spectacular views. Interiorscapes may also become an important, major feature of the urban fabric as there will be miles and miles of interior spaces containing parks, walkways, and recreation facilities linked directly to commercial and housing districts. In the 21st century, there may be the emergence of many more special populations which require accommodation within the landscape. All of this will be due to the ever growing population. Population levels could go as high 30 billion people by 2150 (Livernash 1994) and I suspect as high as 100 billion people on the earth between 2300 and 2500.

During my vision-quest, I had the fortune of traveling to the state of Hawaii in 1982 for the ASLA convention. I believe that these islands illustrate what is going to happen to the world. Hawaii is a diverse place, with land devoted to grazing, cropland, tourism, urban development, natural resource conservation, housing, indigenous cultures, and the armed services. As of 1961, the whole state has been and is planned, zoned, and managed (Hawaii, University of, Department of Geography 1973). This activity is not always easy as there are still extinction pressures, conflicts across user groups, and continued threats from invading life-forms; however, many people in the state are committed to managing this diversity and being vigilant in managing this environment. To illustrate this approach even further, people are engaged in discussions for such plans, designs, and management practices across the globe (Meyers 1984) and the current solar system. From a practical perspective, this work, even within the United States and Canada will take the efforts of many, many landscape architects practicing with every culture and every environmental type.

The Future--Prediction Number 3: Science may make many more contributions to the understanding and design of spaces.

So far, when it comes to planning and design, science is a big dud. The fundamental disconnect between science and design is that science describes the environmental as "it is" but can never answer the question "what shall we do?" For example, science can ascertain which level of fertilizer will generate the optimum growth of a particular plant in a particular climate. Many university scholars have made a career studying a particular life-form with a particular amendment application. However, that does not mean that one should apply that specific chemical to a plant or organism? There can be many very legitimate reasons why that fertilizer, pesticide, or cultivation practice is not used. And thus, scientific discoveries are rarely employed in planning and design. In addition, science is a relatively young endeavor, with only a strong history of 100 to 150 years. Scientists are still studying specific univiariate treatments, life histories, and processes, much less develop empirical multi-variate models useful in assessing various planning and design alternatives. For example, over the last century, even though many planners and designers believed that ecology was important, ecology had very little to offer planners and designers other than to suggest that planners and designers "leave it alone--we don't understand it enough yet." However, that perspective is changing.

Individuals like Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have conducted a fair amount of research throughout their careers concerning human behavior and environmental preferences. During their careers they have forged important behavioral insights and preferences that can be helpful principles when planning, designing, and managing the landscape (Kaplna, R, S. Kaplan, and R. Ryan 1998, Kaplan, R. and S. Kaplan 1989 and Kaplan, S. and R. Kaplan 1981). This communication approach is helpful so that scholarly work is not mis-applied in a deterministic and strict sense. Their work is helpful in the same sense as William Whyte's publication (1980), the late Al Rutledge's books (1971 and 1981), the late Garrett Eckbo's writings such as Urban Landscape Design (1964), the late Ian McHarg's efforts (1969), and Clare Cooper Marcus' Easter Hill publication (Cooper 1975). These science and experienced based scholarly books are invaluable to planners, designers, and managers formulating thoughts about "what shall we do?"

In contrast, some scientists have built empirical models that are useful during the analysis phase of the design process to aid landscape architects in the development of projects. For example, in the land planning arena, in my homeland region of the Great Lakes states and provinces (primarily Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario), limnologists, hydrologists, and soil scientists had studied the effects of nutrients on lake productivity and have build models that can study the effects of land-uses within a watershed upon the environmental quality of a lake. As illustrated by myself and my students, various landscape treatments can be studied with some reasonable sense of assurance to assess the effects of land development upon a water body, leading to planning, design, and management decisions (Burley et al. 1990). We also illustrated similar ideas with wildlife habitat models (derived from scientists in Minnesota and Colorado) in a surface mine application (Burley et al. 1988) and recreational settings (Burley 1989) with visual quality models in a transportation setting (Burley 1996), and numerous soil reconstruction reclamation equations with the first being Burley, Thomsen, and Kenkel (1989). These models and applications give numbers for results and there are more empirical studies being reported every day.

As part scientist and part designer, I believe that it is my duty for individuals like myself to bridge the scientific with the heuristics of planning and design. This has been my internal vision-quest. Based upon these science/design interface experiences, I believe that over the next century, science will become more relevant to planning and design, especially in the analysis phase of the design process, predicting the effects of plans and design treatments upon human behavior and preference, climatic influence, wildlife habitat, water quality, resource consumption, human health, environmental diversity, landscape processes, risk assessment, and related subjects. This new information (through lists of principles, case studies, and empirical models) will have to be incorporated into the design vocabulary. Planning, design, and management of the biosphere will require landscape architects to balance artistic and scientific education and abilities.

Concluding Remarks

These three predictions will generate new opportunities for landscape architects and will challenge landscape architects to build environments that are responsive to these issues. The future is neither bleak nor cheerful, but rather it will become a setting mixed with both positive and negative attributes containing successes and failures. Some opportunities will be lost and there will be unanticipated gains. If landscape architects look around them, they will be able to see glimpses of the future. It is neither an inferno nor utopian.

I invite you to spend some time and contemplate about the future. Then share your ideas in a dialogue with your friends and colleagues.

In closing, I have many more predictions. Some became more pertinent on 11 September 2001 and some have yet to be relevant. I hope that I will have an opportunity to share those with you some day. In addition, I wish to state that predictions number one and two are not endorsements of atmospheric destabilization and population growth, but rather somewhat objective notions about the future of the environment and are meant for your attention and reflection. Please do not hesitate to reply.


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Ballard, R.D. 2001. Black Sea mysteries. National Geographic 199(5):52-69.

Burley, J.B. 1989. Multi-model habitat analysis and design for M.B.

Johnson Park in the Red River Valley. Landscape and Urban Planning, 261-280.

Burley, J.B. 1996. Visual and ecological environmental quality model for transportation planning and design. Transportation Research Record 1549:54-60.

Burley, J.B., S. Johnson, P. Larson and B. Pecka. 1988. Big Stone granite quarry habitat design: HSI reclamation application. ASSMR Conference Proceedings, PA., 161-169.

Burley, J.B., J. Kopperl, J. Paliga and W. Carter. 1990. Land- use/watershed modeling for Lake Itasca Minnesota: a land-use planning, GIS project at Colorado State University. Landscape and Land Use Planning.

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Christopherson, E. 1962. The Night the Mountain Fell: the Story of the Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake.

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Hawaii, University of, Department of Geography. 1973. Armstrong, R.W. (ed.), Atlas of Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press.

Kaplan, R. and S. Kaplan. 1989. The Experience of Nature: a Psychological Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Kaplan, R., S. Kaplan, and R.L. Ryan. 1998. With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature. Island Press

Kaplan, S. and R. Kaplan. 1981. Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an Uncertain World. Praeger Scientific.

Livernash, R. 1994. Chapter 2: Population and the environment. World Resources 1994-95: a Guide to the Global Environment. Worldwatch Institute, Oxford University Press.

McHarg, I. 1969. Design with Nature. Doubleday/Natural History Press.

Meyers, N. (ed.). 1984. G.A.I.A.: an Atlas of Planet Management. Anchor Books, Doubleday.

Mono Basin Ecosystem Study Committee. 1987, The Mono Basin Ecosystem: Effects of changing Lake Level. National academy Press.

Rutledge, A.J. 1971. Anatomy of a Park: the Essentials of Recreation Area Planning and Design. McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Rutledge, A.J. 1981. A Visual Approach to Park Design. Garland STMP Press.

Schwartz, G.M. and G.A. Thiel. 1973. Minnesota Rocks and Waters: a Geological Story. The University of Minnesota Press, fourth printing.

Whyte, W.H. 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The Conservation Foundation.

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