by Lauren Colunga
THE STORY OF OUR LANDSCAPE
If landscapes are like books , what story are they telling? Whose story? Diverse groups in our society are striving for equality and for their stories to be heard. The landscapes we inhabit as humans lack an audible voice and are dependent upon designers to create settings for stories. Every landscape does have its own story, but examining landscapes as the settings for human stories provides a unique vantage point for critical discussion.
Setting greatly impacts a story’s plot and the stories able to be told: a barren desert landscape on Mars; an isolated island in the south pacific; a small cabin in the woods; a royal palace. Landscapes have the same ability to shape the stories of our lives and our communities. Where we live comes to define our culture on local, national, and international scales. Whether a story is inclusive of all people depends on innumerable factors, but is hugely important. Providing ALL people with equal access to the landscape they live in gives everyone an opportunity to help write the story of their community.
A PARADIGM SHIFT
Known as Universal Design, the concept of total inclusion in the landscape is not a new concept. It is however, a paradigm shift from most people’s view of beauty and grandeur in the built world. Can you imagine Gone With The Wind without its iconic staircase? What would Hogwarts be like without the moving staircases in the student towers? You can read J.K. Rowling’s brief entry on Illness and Disability in the Potterverse here. We never do learn how Mad-Eye Moody manages all of those stairs with his wooden leg!
However, some landscapes brilliantly reveal the beauty of universal design: Les Jardins de Versailles; Amsterdam, and Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. A brilliant article from The Guardian in 2018 asks, “What would a truly disabled-accessible city look like?” and shows that accessible landscapes, of any scale, can be inspiring, beautiful, and unique.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN THE LANDSCAPE
There is no cheat sheet for what an accessible landscape should like like. Similar to the way the most inspiring instructors teach you the basics by going so far beyond the minimum required topics, the most beautiful landscapes inspire through the beauty of shared experience. The American Society of Landscape Architects released a guide to Universal Design for communities, businesses, and people to better understand the potential of universal design and how to integrate it in a meaningful way.
Small changes help. Thinking outside of the box helps. Shifting our paradigm to a new and more inclusive way of thinking will help ensure the stories of all people are able to take place in the landscapes of our lives.