Richard Weller is the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture and Co-Director of the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at The University of Pennsylvania. Throughout his career he has worked simultaneously as an academic and a consultant specializing in the formative stages of projects. He is former director of the design firm Room 4.1.3 and the Australian Urban Design Research center. Weller has published 5 books and over 90 papers on theory and practice. His current research concerns urban growth in the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Weller sits on the board of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) in Washington and is the founder and Creative Director of the interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture LA+.
Professor Weller is a member of the IFLA Advisory Circle. His area of expertise is urban growth in relation to landscape systems. This growth, now taking place on a planetary scale, is the dominant incarnation of 21st century modernity. How this growth is planned and designed in relation to systems of energy, food and water will determine the ecological balance of the future. Weller’s current research focus is on cities which are growing in the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The overarching question to ask then is whether the growth trajectories of these hotspot cities can be redirected to avoid the further destruction of biodiversity, and if so how? Having taken the first step of identifying likely conflict areas as this research does, it is important now to recognize and understand the true complexity of the problem. The conflict between sprawl and biodiversity cannot be approached reductively or simplistically as if sprawl (formal and informal) is only an outcome of economic and demographic growth, and conservation only a matter of fencing off areas in its path.
The peri-urban territory of cities is a complex mosaic of different and often contradictory land uses in high states of flux. Indeed, the alteration of peri-urban land is not caused solely by urbanization but is also a consequence of extracting many of the resources required to support cities and their residents. The often invisible and myriad forces shaping these landscapes are not yet well understood by the urban design and planning professions, just as the novel ecology of these lands is not yet well understood by the scientific community.
The profession best able to negotiate complex landscapes such as the peri-urban, is landscape architecture. Landscape architects work in equal measure with ecological and cultural data to build up holistic understanding of cities in their regional contexts. From that basis, with teams of ecologists and planners, scenarios for alternative forms of urban growth can be visualized and their costs and benefits weighed.