We are living in a time of extraordinary change and uncertainty. Throughout the world, extreme weather and climate events, such as storms and floods, have increased in recent decades. Out of the ten hottest years recorded in history, seven occurred in the last decade. The impact of sea-level rise, melting of ice caps and permafrost, loss of habitat and species extinction are just the initial signs of looming crises facing the planet and society. By 2030, it has been estimated that 700 million people worldwide will be displaced by intense water scarcity. As we set down to write this report, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new social and economic challenges for communities around the world.

Beyond the death toll and economic disruptions, the impact of the pandemic has also highlighted the persistent inequalities in our society with poorer racial minorities suffering higher death rates than those of the affluent class. Indeed, despite the hard-won progress made in recent history, structural barriers continue to exacerbate the inequity in society1. Besides the pandemic, the poorest populations of the world are also expected to be the most vulnerable under global climate calamities. In the face of social and political uncertainty, nationalist and authoritarian regimes are making a comeback, adding challenges to the already complex problems.

In our role as landscape architects, as a profession with the mission to “enhance, respect, and restore the life-sustaining integrity of the landscape” and to protect the interests of clients and the public2, we have a responsibility to take on the environmental, social, and political challenges before us. Already, there is growing interest among a new generation of students and faculty in socially engaged design responses to the urgent social and environmental challenges as evident in recent award-winning student projects and studio work.

“This is what the students think about all the time these days. They are interested in how landscape architecture can deal with these issues.” Denise Hoffman Brandt, City College of New York

The New Landscape Declaration put forward by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), with a focus on social and ecological justice, resilience, and democracy is also indicative of this growing interest. A strong agenda of equity and justice has further been evident in the work of National Olmsted Scholars. The recent discussion led by the McHarg Center at Penn on the role of our profession in the Green New Deal suggests a proactive response to address issues of resilience and justice.

Given the growing interest and aspirations, however, is the current model of landscape architecture education providing students with the necessary skills and knowledge to confront the urgent issues of equity, justice, and climate resilience? Are the accredited programs doing an adequate job in preparing the next generation’s leaders to tackle these issues?

The field of landscape architecture is not short of thought leaders and real-life cases that advance our practice toward social and environmental justice. But how can we translate these expertise, experiences, and lessons into models of education and pedagogy? How can we prepare students to become not only competent professionals but also proactive practitioners who are socially and politically engaged to produce transformative outcomes? How can we transform the profession and society starting with education?

“Students are coming in with an expectation that this is what they want to do and are trying to figure out what they can actually do as landscape architects.” Stephanie Rolley, Kansas State University

This document represents the result of a project as part of the 2019-2020 Landscape Architecture Foundation Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. Titled “Educating Design Activists in Landscape Architecture,” this project investigates how design activism, here defined as design for social change, can be best integrated into landscape architecture education. The investigation was a response to the New Landscape Declaration that calls on landscape architects to be “active designers, engaging in politics, policy, finance, community service, and more.”

Through workshops at a series of national conferences3, interviews with educational leaders and practitioners4, and a questionnaire that was distributed to schools and programs and through the Landscape Architecture Foundation e-newsletter, the study sought to identify the challenges, opportunities, and perspectives from leading educators, students, program administrators, and practitioners on the relationships between activist practices and design education.

Following a discussion of skill sets, challenges, opportunities, and existing models, the document presents a framework for actions and a list of propositions for landscape architecture education. The document is accompanied by a website that serves as a resource guide for those interested in learning more about existing cases and resources.



  1. It is projected that the world’s richest 1% will possess as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.
  2.  ASLA Code of Professional Ethics
  3. Workshop sessions were organized for the 2019 CELA (Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) Conference in Sacramento, CA, the annual conferences of EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association) in Brooklyn, NY (2019) and Tempe, AZ (2020).
  4. Ten program leaders were interviewed, including (in alphabetical order by last name) Mark Boyer (Louisiana State University), Meg Calkins (North Carolina State University), Katya Crawford (University of New Mexico), Samuel Dennis (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Ron Henderson (Illinois Institute of Technology), Alison Hirsch (University of Southern California), Denise Hoffman Brandt (City College of New York), Joern Langhorst (University of Colorado, Denver), Stephanie Rolley (Kansas State University), and Robert Ryan (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). Six activists/practitioners were interviewed, including (in alphabetical order by last name) Leann Andrews (Traction), Billy Fleming (McHarg Center), Brice Maryman (MIG), Cary Moon, and Chelina Odbert (Kounkuey Design Initiative).