The first time I heard the phrase “civic-scale landscape” was about 25 years ago, when I was working with a colleague on a large-scale landscape/urban design project in Anaheim, California. She actually said, “What this project needs is a landscape with a civic scale.” Which is not exactly the same as “civic-scale landscape,” but her… Read more »
The first time I heard the phrase “civic-scale landscape” was about 25 years ago, when I was working with a colleague on a large-scale landscape/urban design project in Anaheim, California. She actually said, “What this project needs is a landscape with a civic scale.” Which is not exactly the same as “civic-scale landscape,” but her phrase stuck in my head.
Eventually, the term came to have greater significance and application to me than what she meant at the time. I came to see it as a way of describing my own philosophical attitude towards landscape architecture, which, to be honest, was often fraught with doubts about what the profession really stood for. Nearly everyone around me seemed to understand what “planning” or “design” was, and that these were definitely separate things. To me and a few others, however, the difference was a distinction without meaning, and I believed that integrating them was not only important, but necessary.
Undoubtedly, my urge to connect what some others saw as detached was the result of a personal philosophical prejudice—that everything is connected to everything else. As landscape architects, we are all used to thinking of the natural world in this way. But my background, steeped in what is quaintly known as a “liberal education,” compelled me to seek even broader connections to history and culture.
The idea of a civic-scale landscape is not really new, though my definition might be. For me, a civic-scale landscape is one that captures the essence of the natural environment, history, culture, and visual character of a place in a way that creates a memorable, recognizable, identifiable whole. It can apply to a neighborhood, town, city, or even a region, and is man-made in the sense that its creation is directed by humans over time, and is not predominantly the random result of these forces. The fact that it is created by humans for their own habitation is what makes it “civic”; and the meaning of “landscape” includes everything visible from the man-made and natural worlds.
A civic-scale landscape, then, might be described as a kind of applied geography, or perhaps, more relevantly, the landscape architect’s version of urban design, in that it embraces many different systems—remember, it is important to connect everything!
Thinking about urban design this way, one will easily recognize existing civic-scale landscapes in great cities—on the streets of Paris, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, or in SWA’s work with the bayous in Houston or Irvine’s community plans. For the future, the potential for creating new civic-scale landscapes on the existing armature of the regional highways, as well as drainage and open-space systems, is particularly alluring, and is uniquely suited to the skills and attitudes about the environment that our profession offers. Regrettably, the number of public officials or private developers with this kind of vision is limited. It will require a perspicacious effort to identify the potential civic-scale landscape opportunities around us, then to put the design effort in motion in order to create the projects we want to pursue, if they are not already available.