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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Community Engagement: A Design Tool for Cultural Landscape Networks

By Denise Wood, 2010 University Olmsted Scholar

During my senior studio, I had the honor of working on a project with the City of Cape May, NJ.  We redesigned three underused parks and developed a city pedestrian and bike trail. We held a series of four community meetings at different stages of the design process to determine the program that would best fit the community. This was our first opportunity to design based on feedback from community members; the lessons that transpired during this journey were truly remarkable. I realized how important community engagement can be during the design process.

Throughout this experience, we learned about building relationships while listening to the end users and responding with design solutions. Members of the community learned from the experience, too. They learned more about what made their city special, and about aspects of sustainable design. We led discussions about rain gardens, native plants and the ecological uniqueness of this special town, which helped many citizens to better understand what landscape architects do. Even community members who were unable to attend meetings in person were able to participate, as each meeting was covered in the local newspaper. It was a very profound and touching experience to get to know this community and it influenced my own goals and desires.

I have known all along that I wanted to be a landscape architect to make a difference in people’s lives by creating sustainable communities. Once I was engulfed in the magic of this Victorian beach town and its heartwarming community members, I knew that I had found my calling and I would strive to listen to what the community wanted in the future when designing public spaces. Taking this approach, I can reach many people within a community, and help them better understand their special and unique local ecology. Also, I want to educate the public on the role of landscape architects in creating sustainable communities, and help members of those communities realize what they can do to make a difference, even in their own backyards.

Community engagement in the design process benefits everyone.  It’s crucial we listen to what the end users want in order to best serve their needs. Community engagement can be a powerful educational design tool.

Denise Wood earned her Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Temple University School of Environmental Design in May. She is currently residing in Reading, PA as a sustainable landscape designer. Click for more information on this project and the City of Cape May, NJ.

LAF is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that provide financial support towards fulfilling our mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment.

Much of what LAF is able to accomplish would not be possible without the thought leadership and financial investment of our major supporters, including ASLA, which provides over $125,000 of in-kind support annually.