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Paul Sayre

City: Greenville

Country: US

Impact Narrative

Paul tells Speak Out:

“As a landscape architect, I feel obliged to rally the cry in the profession to confront humanity’s most urgent imperative: the biotic and environmental crises currently unfolding on planet earth. If our species is to endure through the coming centuries, I believe we must radically rethink our relationship with environment; civilization must transform its fundamental relationship with nature from an adversarial polemic to a balanced partnership.
As a direct result of the impact of industrial civilization, Earth has begun the sixth great biological extinction of its 4.5 billion-year history. Current rates of extinction are several hundred times greater than historical background levels, and if trends continue, extinction rates will rise exponentially. 52 percent of Earth’s natural habitats have been cleared for human use, and an additional .5 to 1.5 percent is consumed by humanity each year. All the while, astonishingly, human population continues to climb—not by millions but by billions—even as humans simultaneously cause and confront deforestation, pollution, climate change, aquifer depletion, and a parade of accompanying terribles.
Surprisingly, I find landscape architects to be generally disengaged from substantive conversations regarding these somber, sobering truths. Landscape architects often bemoan a lack of clarity in the profession’s direction. Naval gazing and a host of “isms” (modernism, post-modernism, new urbanism, landscape urbanism, etc.) occupy much of the academic dialogue, while small-scale gains and educational consensus building—pop-up parks, parklets, edible gardens, and rain gardens, for example—are hailed as acceptable progress in “do-gooder” circles. To be sure, progress of any scale and of any kind is both welcome and commendable. In fact, it is through the combined efforts and contributions of incremental gains that change is most typically effected; however, progress represented by this scope of vision and this scale of thought is insufficient, by orders of magnitude, even to begin to address humanity existential crisis.
I assert that landscape architects have a professional imperative to address the challenges of our environmental crises, and to do so on a global scale. As generalist professionals trained in design thinking, landscape architects are typically equipped to pursue an unusually wide array of professional paths. Their work straddles the intersections of architecture and engineering; ecology and hydrology; horticulture and soil science; high art and practical construction; and, perhaps most delicately, the confluence of stewardship, preservation and environmentalism with human use, land planning, and development.
As such, I steadfastly believe that landscape architects should be among the professionals who are working at the forefront of efforts to find a way through humanities’ existential crises. They are, in fact, already charged with doing so, as the professional creed “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public” is, by proxy, a mandate to protect the heath, safety and welfare of the Earth and its systems. As a graduate student in landscape architecture, I worked to convince my colleagues, peers, and professors of this imperative; in fact, my master’s work explored this topic and made this argument. I believe my work made an impact on my peers, colleagues, and advisors. I intend to continue making this case.”

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