Exploring Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Landscape Architecture Profession

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Landscape Architecture

Recapping the 2018 Diversity Summit, Sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects

For the past two years, I have hurried my way to Washington D.C. each summer to participate in the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Diversity Summit -- a three day intensive organized by ASLA’s national chapter to strategize and think critically about methods to improve racial and ethnic representation within the field of landscape architecture. With about 15 participants, and a team of observers diligently asking questions and taking notes, our group was asked to pry into our own personal journeys through academia and professional practice to find the catalytic pinch points that influenced us toward the profession, or away from it.

When I say “us,” I am describing a cohort of tenacious professionals of color who work across the country and are already local advocates for diverse representation in the field. When I say “us,” I am describing African-American, Latinx, and First Nation individuals that are a part of the very small percentage of people of color working as landscape architects and designers (3%, 10% and .089% respectively according to Data USA 2017). We are passionate about improving these numbers as well as inspiring change that impacts the communities that are important to us.

These are hard conversations to have. As we dug into our backgrounds, we learned that we experienced similar barriers in advancing within landscape architecture: unconscious bias, microaggressions, and a traditional method of teaching and practicing design that neglects widely cultural difference. We also shared how the firms we work for are mobilizing internally to reshape and reframe how they pursue recruitment and mentorship to improve racial and gender representation within their own structures.

At the 2018 Diversity Summit, we discussed ideas for improving racial diversity through business practices. Some of the discussion outcomes were:

  • Define “diversity” and find key metrics to support the value of a racially diverse team 
  • Embrace “Cultural Add” perspective over of “Cultural Fit” perspective to validate diverse staff
  • Participate in sensitivity trainings centered on race, culture, difference and intersectionality
  • Build business relationships with outside consultants, collaborations, and partnerships
  • Recruit from schools outside of  “usual” networks
  • Report best practices to other firms and chapters, and create opportunities to share ideas and recommendations for improving racial representation in landscape architecture

The statistical numbers of racial representation in landscape architecture are staggering and haven’t changed very much over the last 10 years. With the U.S. population shifting to one that is more racially and ethnically diverse, the field of landscape architecture remains stagnate and ultimately risks maintaining itself as a long-term forward-thinking profession. The longevity of our work rests deeply in new practices toward diversity, inclusion and equity. While representation is important, incorporating diverse individuals into positions of decision-making and thought leadership creates more mentors and leaders, which inspires more budding designers to aspire toward the profession of landscape architecture. Meaningful short-term moves like these can create residual long-term impacts that sustain the profession into the future, keeping it relevant, open and inclusive.

For more information on ASLA’s Diversity Summits, please visit: https://www.asla.org/diversitysummit.aspx