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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Designing Dynamic Urban Agriculture from Massachusetts to Milan

By Eliza Rodrigs, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

It’s no secret that ‘green’ is quickly becoming the new ‘black’, with an overwhelmingly strong focus on sustainable development as we move forward toward creating livable environments for the world’s population. Much of this challenge lies in exploring ways we can balance our compact urban environments with the expansive tracts of rural land that produce the food we consume. This perceived dichotomy presents challenges, of course, but more than anything, it provides an exciting opportunity to explore the human footprint and how we use our land.

Submitting to the Olmsted Scholars Program motivated me to reflect upon my own experience, ultimately inspiring my research centered on exploring a balance between the ‘livable city’ and the ‘livable landscape’. In my final design studio at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the focus was placed on designing spatial experiences that reflected elements of cultural landscape heritage in the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. I chose to develop a project that would not only align with the studio goals but would also push the envelope and allow me to explore solutions to the challenges presented by current global food paradigms.

I created a preliminary model of a multi-scale food system, presented more as an approach than any sort of specific design. It was challenging to try to figure out how to design an abstract system — something that could be implemented elsewhere just as easily — that at the same time was just as unique as the population of Lawrence. I wanted whatever I produced to be focused on the people, as I feel very strongly about socially conscious design.

My project seeks to reactivate the idea of production within the context of a low-income, racially diverse New England mill town through a multi-scale food systems approach. It reestablishes historic social activity by re-creating patterns of social life and reinventing the idea of the ‘greenway’ to re-engage the public in the cultural landscapes of Lawrence. It presents a systematic social approach that increases food security, encourages social interaction and environmental stewardship, and facilitates sustainable development from the inside out.

After completing the project, I submitted for a few competitions and was selected as one of 30 finalists for the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition’s Young Earth Solutions (BCFN YES!) 2013 competition. As a finalist, I will be traveling to Milan at the end of November to attend BCFN’s 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition to both represent my work and learn from others in the field. The top 10 projects will present their work to a jury for further competition, and the top 30 will have their abstracts on display over the course of the forum.

As one of the 30 finalists, I also have the unique opportunity to have my work compete for the ‘Best on the Web 2013’ recognition, an honor that is decided through online voting, which is currently underway. Follow the link, click the scroll dots to find my name, then click ‘Show Details’ to browse the project and vote!

Vote for the BCFN Yes! Best on the Web

This is such an incredible opportunity and I’m so grateful to be recognized by BCFN for the kind of work that continues to inspire me!

Eliza graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a BSLA in May 2013. She was awarded both a Merit Award and an Honor Award from the ASLA in recognition of her achievement in the course of study of Landscape Architecture. Eliza continues to explore themes of food security, sustainable agricultural development and urban livability in as many contexts as she can. In November she will travel to Milan, Italy to attend the 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition, a 2-day event that will continue to open doors and fuel the conversation about how to design for a successful future.

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.