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ISU landscape architecture professor co-founds environmental justice professional network

June 16, 2015


Landscape architecture Assistant Professor Julie Stevens

AMES, Iowa — "Environmental justice means providing everyone with access to healthy outdoor spaces, facilities and resources," says Iowa State University's Julie Stevens. The assistant professor of landscape architecture recently helped establish and is co-chairing the American Society of Landscape Architects' (ASLA) Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN).

Approved by the ASLA Executive Committee in March, the new PPN seeks to integrate issues of environmental justice into landscape architectural education, research and professional practice, Stevens said.

"Most landscape architects are very concerned about environmental health and integrity and the health and well-being of human inhabitants, but the projects we get paid for don't often serve marginalized communities," she said.

Stevens, at left, with students working on an outdoor classroom to help rehabilitate offenders at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

"The focus could be shifted to creating healthy environments for all people, in all landscapes, if we change the way we think about spaces and our work and get more creative about how we attach funding to projects. The Environmental Justice PPN will start by bringing together people who already are engaged with environmental justice issues and expand to those who want to get involved, allowing us to share strategies and expand the possibilities."

Stevens volunteered to help create the PPN after attending an environmental justice-themed session at the ASLA annual meeting in Denver last November. She teamed with several members of Design Workshop, an international landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm, to draft a mission statement and goals to forward to the ASLA in Washington, DC.

ASLA members can now join the Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network. Non-members can join the PPN's LinkedIn group.

"When you have someone like Kurt Culbertson, the CEO of Design Workshop, and these other big names advocating for formal inclusion of environmental justice, people recognize that it's time we start talking about this more openly, identifying the gaps and working to address them," Stevens said.

Diverse perspectives
Another goal of the PPN is to achieve a greater representation of backgrounds and perspectives in landscape architecture, in part by introducing high school students to the profession and "working in and with the diverse neighborhoods our students come from," she said.

Stevens points to several projects in progress through Iowa State as examples of the ways environmental justice can be incorporated into the education of future landscape architects as well as into the communities where landscape architects work: Professor Julia Badenhope's disaster-recovery engagement with Mapleton following a devastating tornado; Associate Professor Carl Rogers' work to help revitalize the historic Sixth Avenue commercial corridor in Des Moines, which includes analysis of green infrastructure solutions for stormwater management; and her own ongoing work with offenders and staff to create therapeutic outdoor environments at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

"That whole town [Mapleton] could have just folded under the stresses following the destruction caused by the tornado, but instead they've discovered they can not only recover but be better than before. They have the power to improve their environment so it promotes outdoor activity and social interaction," Stevens said.

Similarly, as the women at the correctional institution "are improving their own environment, it reflects positively on themselves and they're more likely to make the healthy behavioral changes they're supposed to make so they can successfully reintegrate into society when they're released."

Integral to every project
Stevens co-chairs the new PPN with Kathleen King, a landscape designer at Design Workshop in Denver. They were pleased by how quickly they were able to develop and gain approval for the network, she said, and are now working on a LinkedIn account (open to non-ASLA members as well as members) and articles for the ASLA's online blog as well as plans for a group meeting at the ASLA annual meeting in Chicago this November.

"When sustainability first became a big concern, we started by building projects that had some green components, but now it's an integral part of every project," Stevens observed. "We'll know our efforts to address environmental justice are successful when it's also a part of every project, when everyone is thinking about the environmental justice impact and it's a fundamental thing that we do."

Julie Stevens, Landscape Architecture, (515) 294-6927,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,