Thinking on Sustainability Through Health

by Tara Abbaticchio

In thinking about the potential of landscape architecture to effect people in their daily lives and in the future, I have come to realize that what I see in landscape architecture is its ability to provide options and encouragement for healthy living. Our culture has become invaded by threatening lifestyles – a result of auto-centric, disconnected, stagnant communities that lack access to healthy environments with the natural services of clean air, water and food. Of course we all do not choose to or have to live this way, but for many it is not a choice, it is the norm.

The sustainability question asks how we can meet the needs of the present without compromising the potential of future generations to meet their own needs. Yes, we have all heard this. But how to do that is the real question. How do we even tackle such a question? I am convinced more and more that sustainability is and will become directly related to our access to healthy, non-toxic mental and physical environments. And this is why I believe in landscape architecture. More than designing people’s aesthetic backyard gardens (though I am not at all discounting the importance of this task), landscape architecture has the power to change the environment and the accessibility to healthy environments that will help to sustain a healthy population in the future. Designing spaces that are regenerative and focus on human health and well-being benefits could put landscape design at the forefront of ‘sustainable design’.

As humans we can only be as healthy as the environment we surround ourselves by. Only with knowledge and a bit of common sense can we protect ourselves from the levels of toxicity that are deemed ‘safe’ for human life. Physical and mental health requires so much more than the standards set by government agencies. Taking charge of creating healthy landscapes must be a task that we take on with passion if we are to create a sustainable ecosystem for the future.

A program with the right ideas in mind is SITES (the Sustainable Sites Initiative). As a response to LEED for building, SITES will attempt to ensure sustainability in development beginning with site selection, not just using ‘green’ materials in an inappropriately situated new building. While SITES is still in it’s pilot project phase, I hope to see that it follows through with its potential to set a standard for healthy living through landscape design. Their website claims that the complete 2013 Rating System and Reference Guide will be released mid-2013. For a little background information on SITES, ASLA’s Lunch and Learn series has a great episode available to view here.

For additional resources, check out ASLA’s Healthy and Liveable Communities Professional Practice Network page here.

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