Landscape Design Blog

Articles by John D. Longhill

The Healing Role of Landscape Architecture

With the Tragedy of September 11, so close at hand it was difficult to come up with an appropriate article about landscape design this month. And yet I know, it is important for all of us, as Americans, to continue our lives, as unaffected as possible, by this horrendous act of terror. We must not only continue, but move forward with a strength that we have not called upon for several generations.

My answer came in the way of an e-mail from the president of ASLA (the American Society of Landscape Architects) of which I am a member. He was in our society’s headquarters in New York, across the street from the World Trade Center.

The letter reminded me of why I decided to become a landscape architect almost 30 years ago. It was in the 70’s after the end of the Vietnam war, and the tumultuous 60’s when many of us were looking for a direction that would make a difference in the world. I saw in landscape architecture a means to do this, while being able to express my own creativity, in harmony with nature. This is an excerpt of what he wrote:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing this message to you at the end of an extremely difficult week. As many of you know, I not only worked across the street from the World Trade Center (it's the building marked as Post Office or Federal Building on the maps that appear in the newspapers) but my windows faced the towers. I was at my desk as we heard the jet bearing down on us. We got to the window just as the plane struck the first tower (just a couple of hundred feet from my window). The horror of the building being engulfed in flames so quickly, as well as the sight of watching people kicking the windows out and jumping from eighty floors above the ground, is still etched in my mind. As the second jet circled from the south, it disappeared for a few seconds behind the building and then reappeared to the east. For a brief second or two, it seemed to be heading directly for my office, as we stood at the windows watching the North tower. But as news video would later show, the plane continued to turn and hit the southerly side of the South tower. We ducked behind columns as the debris and fireball came our way. It was at this point, realizing that this was not an accident that we were witnessing, that my staff and I made our way down the stairs to the street. We all were several blocks north at the time of the tower collapse.

As someone so close to the tragedy, I wanted to demonstrate that these terrorist acts could not keep me down, my city down, or my country down. In the days following the disaster, there was a great deal of attention focused on getting the stock exchange up and running. It was as if this economic center were the very heart that pumped life through the veins of this city. If the stock exchange plays that role, then certainly landscape architecture is the conscience and very soul of this city and our country.

As people gathered in the great parks and open spaces, especially here in NYC, where we have been so deeply touched, they were able to share as one community the grief, feel the support, receive comfort, and the reassurance that we will find a way to move on with our lives. The memorials set up in places like Union Square Park are tributes to those lost and those rescue workers who are continuing their work. The work we do and spaces we create are so very versatile. They function in times of joy and in times of sorrow. They allow us to come together in extremely emotional times. They allow us to connect with nature and feel that we are connected to a greater spirit beyond. I feel so very proud of what we do. The examples of our work are serving to help in the recovery and healing process this past week. It is a reaffirmation of how important a role landscape architecture plays in creating a sense of community and in strengthening society.

In closing, I would ask that we all take a moment to remember those who have died and, especially important, love those who are living.

Len Hopper ASLA President

After reading this letter, I was able to remember and reaffirm the importance of landscape design in this great country, and my role in it as a landscape architect. We all have important roles to play and sometimes we lose sight of how we are making a difference in the great scheme of things. Each and every one of us has a part in making this country what it is, both good and bad. I hope, that by going through this horrible experience together, we can focus less on hate, prejudice and cruelty and more on what makes us the strong, positive example that we are for the world. It is our commitment to freedom, love for all of God’s creations and the appreciation of what God has given us through creative expression that defines us as Americans and as a country.


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By Design, Landscape Architecture, founded in 1999 by John Longhill.....