Back and Forward: Kimberly Garza on Making Vibrant Public Spaces

Back Q&A Jun 12, 2017

Kimberly Garza, a landscape architect and director of ATLAS Lab, offers her insight into how underutilized urban spaces can be transformed. For more from Garza, check out “Up My Alley” in our June issue. Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll email you when it’s available online.

(Courtesy ATLAS Lab)

What’s the biggest change in your industry/area of focus in the past year?

Landscape architecture is vitally important with regard to effectively addressing spatial, ecological and social issues related to public life in our city centers. Historically, city planning has been dominated by the fields of civil engineering and architecture, and as a result, urban public spaces have lacked thoughtful and productive landscapes, site-specific design solutions and community input. With reinvestment into urban cores across the U.S., landscape architects have begun to tackle the reoccupation of vacant and underutilized urban fragments within cityscapes, transforming them into vibrant public spaces. Everything in the built environment is being reconsidered for ecological sustainability while providing a variety of recreational amenities for public use. This can be seen in small-scale design interventions such as park benches that simultaneously serve as playscape surfaces or parking stalls that convert to mini-parks; the urban landscape offers a multitude of new design conditions.

Related: Architectura Obscura Photography Competition

What do you foresee as the biggest change on the horizon in the year to come?

Landscape architecture will continue to directly address the complex issues related to climate change and failing infrastructure through green infrastructure and multifunctional design methods. Oftentimes when I share that I’m a landscape architect with someone, I often hear, ‘Can you design my backyard?’ or ‘What’s the name of that plant?’ The field of landscape architecture encompasses a vast knowledge base from form-making and planning to engineering and ecology, and encompasses scales from small to large. Given current infrastructure needs, extreme climate change and sea level rise, the field of landscape architecture has started to breakdown the silos that are all too common in design practice by disrupting traditional notions of what is ‘landscape,’ or what is ‘infrastructure.’ In doing so, landscape architects have been leading the design conversation and developing holistic, innovative, and site-specific design solutions to address such issues.

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