Open Space as Social Infrastructure: For a Social Turn in Landscape Architecture

Aspern Seestadt Wien, Seepark und Yella-Hertzka-Park, Foto: LAVALAND Landschaftsarchitektur

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By Constanze A. Petrow and Barbara Willecke

The profession of landscape architecture has become more diverse. So have today's demands on open spaces. As the socio-cultural diversity of users has increased, so has the diversity of the socio-spatial contexts in which open spaces are developed.

This social differentiation is part of a comprehensive transformation process that we are currently experiencing. Climate change, the biodiversity crisis and the mobility revolution are challenging us. Today, landscape architecture has the task of making cities fit for periods of heat and heavy rainfall and of greening them massively. This is the only way to maintain the attractiveness and quality of life of urban areas.

However, it is about much more than blue-green infrastructure. Landscape architects design public open spaces. In doing so, they create places where society meets in all its diversity. Good design creates liveliness. It organizes spaces intelligently and thus enables a wide range of uses in a relaxed yet dense atmosphere.

Landscape architecture is political, because it can contribute to social integration, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Prof. Dr. Constanze A. Petrow, Barbara Willecke

Paradigm shift necessary

From all this follows a comprehensive paradigm shift within our profession. The major themes of the 1980s - ecology and social issues - are returning, without displacing the claim of the 1990s - creative competence. Over the past three decades, many landscape architects:in set other priorities: In the wake of a general aestheticization and increased attention economy, image value and image production became goals in their own right, and have since competed with other planning goals.

This prioritization of aesthetics as the legacy of the nineties and noughties is still potent. There is often a gap between the design rationale of planners and what is relevant to the everyday users of an open space.

More social alertness is needed

In addition to a return to the plant and its use as the very own competence of landscape architecture, today with the goal of creating sensually appealing, species-rich green structures, there is also a need for more social alertness.The enormous challenges of the present require a new self-image of landscape architects, a social turn.

Without a pronounced interest in the society whose spaces we are allowed to design, no contemporary landscape architecture is conceivable. Nor is it possible without communication at eye level with all those involved.

Prof. Dr. Constanze A. Petrow, Barbara Willecke

The tools of the trade for open space designers include precise knowledge of the needs of different user groups, differentiated according to age, gender, socio-cultural background and support needs in the broadest sense. Design must also evolve. More energy needs to be invested in the scale between concept and detail. This is because the precise considerations of spatial dimensions, distances, positioning and equipment in an open space determine its utility value.

Meaningful relationships between individual offerings and socially sensitive adjacencies influence the use and thus the atmosphere of an open space. Almost every detail and material decision has an impact on the legibility of a space, its suitability for everyday use, and its comfort.

Open space is social space

Open spaces are therefore not only green infrastructure, but also social infrastructure. Open space is social space. Especially in the neighborhood context, communicative, versatile and versatile outdoor spaces are in demand. Places that support people's different everyday lives and give them free space in the best sense of the word.

Spatial justice, equal opportunities, gender, diversity and inclusion are to be guaranteed, developed and negotiated in serious participation processes.

Prof. Dr. Constanze A. Petrow, Barbara Willecke

Creating diverse urban natures and inclusive open spaces for a diverse society and strengthening not only the ecological but also the social performance of open spaces is the task of our epoch.

Authors: Prof. Dr. Constanze A. Petrow, Landscape Architect bdla, Department of Open Space Planning and Society, Institute for Open Space Development, Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences. Barbara Willecke, landscape architect bdla, planung.freiraum barbara willecke, Berlin. The text appeared in the bdla association journal "Landschaftsarchitekten" 2/2022.

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