Landscape Architecture and Sustainability
In a recent write up at The Dirt by the American Society of Landscape Architects, Patricia O’Donnell mentions the possible role that landscape architects can do in helping solve inter-connected problems faced by all. As part of the United Nations new sustainable development agenda formalised last September 2015 in New York, O’Donnell points out that landscape architects could contribute to achieving goal 2 — which seeks to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” — by working with agricultural communities to increase the productivity of small farms and create better access to markets, as detailed in target 2.3 (O’Donnell, 2015). She also believes that landscape architects are well positioned to help communities create sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, maintain ecosystems, and strengthen the capacity to respond to climate change, as detailed in target 2.4 (ibid).
Urban farming is something that landscape architects can help facilitate and design with passionate citizens, agricultural communities and local government units. In a study that was done in 2011 regarding the current status of urban agricultural in the Philippines, it highlighted the need for further research and training activities to enhance and properly implement urban agriculture in major cities (Nitural, 2011). One major component of this initiative is to convert idle urban lands suitable for agriculture and make it more productive. Suitable agricultural crop types for specific land types should also be identified (ibid). Landscape architects can help in such endeavor by providing scientific, aesthetic and functional strategies to create urban farms in unused spaces, backyards and rooftops where communities can build to harvest and enjoy.
Philippine Landscape Architecture
The Philippine Association of Landscape Architects (PALA) is the professional organization of landscape architects in the Philippines. Officially established in 1977, PALA is a community of trained individuals, passionate about the stewardship of the land and whose members are holistic in their approach in crafting outdoor environments (Caballero, 2006). They work with both poles of human culture – the practical and analytical as well as the artistic and intuitive. The organization believes that the intensifying global focus for sustainability and environmental conservation means that landscape architects have an increasing role in the improvement of society (Tan, 2007).
Guided by its mission-vision of developing the practice of landscape architecture through education, advocacy and camaraderie, PALA constantly looks for relevant projects and activities that can benefit its members and the public, so that landscape architecture remains a relevant profession that improves the quality of Philippine urban and rural areas. In 2014, the organization initiated a socially responsible initiative, which encourages community partnership, environmental stewardship, and active public participation in creating healthy open spaces (Luntiang Pook, 2015). The project was named “Luntiang Barangay” or Green Village, wherein landscape architects oversaw and managed the construction of simple gardens, which were designed and used by members of a low to middle income residential community. PALA partnered with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the project was implemented in the town of Rodriguez in the province of Rizal. Most of the plants that were used were edible such as Abelmoschus esculentus (okra), Solanum lycopersicum (tomatoes), Solanum melongena (eggplants), Cymbopogon citrinus (lemon grass), Moringa oleifera (malunggay). While ornamental plants such as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Tradescantia spathacea and Arachis pintoi, were also added to provide low maintenance shrubs and groundcovers. Residents had the opportunity to harvest the plants for their own cooking or as produce that they can sell in their local marketplace. They had a positive feedback to the initiative as it provided them a sense of ownership to what they have created, which they continue to maintain after the project completed.
During the first week of June 2015, a second community farming initiative took place in Cagayan de Oro City in the province of Misamis Oriental. Cagayan de Oro City is a highly urbanized area with a population of more than 600,000 inhabitants. The city was devastated by the tropical storm Sendong in December 2011, which killed 500 persons and wrecked parts of the city and many smaller towns in northern Mindanao. Numerous families were displaced because of flash floods from the Cagayan River and they were relocated in a small village named Xavier Ecoville. This relocation village was chosen as the next location for the Luntian project. Aptly named as the “Luntiang Pook”, which means Green Locale, the project was aimed at providing healthy environments through community participation of Xavier Ecoville residents. It also provides knowledge on small-scale cooperative farming opportunities for the recovering community.
Luntiang Pook Project
Luntiang Pook began with a whole day of conceptualization and brainstorming for edible gardens of Xavier Ecoville. The village volunteers were given a course on efficient residential agriculture wherein basic principles of landscape design were tackled in the half-day seminar. Topics discussed ranged from rules of hierarchy and balance, guidelines of plant maintenance, and principles of integrating cultural beliefs as integral considerations of small-scale planning. Afterwards, members of the community were randomly divided into groups. Each group was assigned a specific plot of land to beautify using the materials that PALA and NCCA have provided. A pair of landscape architects were assigned to each group who acted as consultants for the residents involved. By the end of the day, a site plan, planting plan, and rough sketches that support each group’s design goals were accomplished and presented in front of all the residents. The second day of the project was dedicated to implementation and construction of designs conceptualized from the day before. The volunteers enthusiastically built their gardens and were excited of the possibility of harvesting vegetables and fruits in the weeks to come.
Luntiang Pook was a learning experience for all those who were involved. Licensed professionals taught local residents formal landscape design principles and methods while community members provided valuable practical knowledge of the spaces they create, the climatic conditions and typical plants they use in the region. Many volunteers have previous experience in growing plants and vegetables and they have acquired different techniques in effective propagation and maintenance of edible gardens. Some also have traditional knowledge on plant materials, which has been passed on from their elders. These are guidelines that are not written in books but passed on through words of mouth from one generation to another.
Four months after the project was implemented, PALA members went back to Cagayan de Oro to evaluate the maintenance of the edible gardens. The yield of the produce was evaluated and the upkeep of the plots was also reviewed. Luntiang Pook started with three plots that were transformed into community gardens. The initial area had limited space but it was enough area to cater to all the seedlings and cuttings allocated for the initial planting design. After a few weeks, the faster growing species bore fruit and the volunteer farmers harvested them. Most of the residents took the produce home to be used in their own household. Each member recorded everything they took from the garden and these were data included in the final report. After a few weeks, residents also wanted to expand the area dedicated for community farming. In the spirit of the Luntiang Pook project, some volunteers also planted in their private back gardens the numerous seeds harvested from the community plots. Furthermore, other green-thumbed residents started their own community gardens a few blocks away from the original plots. A nearby vacant plot was converted into vegetable patch and the back of the village chapel was transformed into a garden sprawling with vines and herbs.
In an interview with some residents, a mother of five kids proudly claimed that she has been harvesting juicy eggplants and she cooks them for her family members. Another resident thought of propagating the lush lemongrass so that she can sell them to the nearby community for her additional income. A grandmother also recalled how her grandchild brought home a couple of plump tomatoes that were added to the soup she made that evening.
It is with great fulfilment to see what positive impacts collaboratively created landscapes can bring to a neighbourhood. Many of the community members of Xavier Ecoville still suffer from trauma of family and property loss, and their ability to grow something that was conceptualized and planted by their own hands provide a personal and collective sense of achievement. Their heartfelt appreciation and empowerment makes designing landscapes for communities more meaningful for landscape architects.
PALA is proud to be involved of projects that spark a new generation of landscape architects who are committed to uplifting the condition of local communities, making them more sustainable. It is an organization that would like to address the need for healthy community spaces and facilitate resident-centric solutions. It ultimately hopes to be part of a global process of sustainable development, providing opportunities for landscape architects to interact with the broader Filipino community. PALA wants to foster a strong sense of nationhood thru sharing experiences and knowledge in local plant propagation techniques and designing practical and beautiful landscapes for everyone.
From 18-19 November 2015, the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects will be holding its 4th National Convention at the Island Cove, Cavite. The two-day event is aimed at fostering greater interaction among professionals in various disciplines of the built environment; promote better understanding of the landscape architecture profession as an integral part in the discourse of urban and rural development; and highlight the competent, multi-disciplinary practice of landscape architecture prepared to face the opportunities of ASEAN integration. For more information, visit http://palanatcon2015.weebly.com/
About the Authors
Norman June Brito is currently the Assistant Vice-President for Internal Affairs for the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects. He is mainly responsible for the Continuing Professional Development of registered landscape architects in the Philippines. He received his Landscape Architecture bachelor’s degree from the University of the Philippines, Diliman and has worked for landscape development projects in the Philippines, China, and Australia. He can be contacted through his email at email@example.com
Caballero, G. (2006). What is Landscape Architecture. Philippine Association of Landscape Architects. [online] Available at: <http://www.pala.org.ph/history_definition.html> [Accessed 10 October 2015].
Luntiang Pook, (2015). About Luntiang Pook. [online] Available at: <https://www.facebook.com/luntiangpook/> [Accessed 5 October 2015]
Nitural, P. S. (2011). Urban Agriculture Program in the Philippines: Its Beginning and Status. Food & Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asia and Pacific Region. [online] Available at: < http://www.agnet.org/htmlarea_file/activities/20110719103448/paper-947796964.pdf> [Accessed 11 October 2015].
O’Donnell, P. (2015). Landscape for the Architects Can Help the World Achieve New Sustainable Development Goals. [online] Available at: <http://dirt.asla.org/2015/09/23/landscape-architects-can-help-the-world-achieve-new-sustainable-development-goals/> [Accessed 2 October 2015].
Tan, M. (2007). Green Awakenings: Building Green . Enterprise Magazine, July, 5(3), pp. 26-27