If we don’t work to shape the future we want, we’re going to have to live with the future we get. Florida and the other states hit by Idalia are going to be going into recovery, but the process will take years. What if we had a long term plan to use those efforts to craft a better future? There is a proposal that could show us a way forward.

Not to minimize the damage Hurricane Idalia did to Tampa and the region around it, but having landfall take place farther north spared it from the worst case scenario. If the full force of the storm had hit Tampa Bay along with Super Moon high tides, the storm surge would have been devastating to a far larger degree. What we are being told about the future we’re heading into suggests that Tampa (and the rest of the planet) can expect storms to keep getting worse — especially as the oceans continue to heat up.

Job 1 has to be getting off fossil fuels ASAP. The adage about the consequences of throwing gasoline on a fire extend to cover the current situation all too well. Job 1A has to include adapting to the unavoidable consequences while we do that. Reconstruction/rebuilding is going to take place, along with continuing ‘normal’ development. But it shouldn’t just be about replacing/restoring what was lost. We should use it as an opportunity to do better.

It’s a good time to talk about how we rebuild, and not just for hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. The fires of Maui, the extended heat in Arizona and depleted water supplies, the hurricane hitting California — these and the wave of ‘natural’ disasters amplified by human-driven climate change are stressing a built landscape that was never meant to withstand the stresses being put on them.

There are issues that go beyond responding to disasters, such as the lack of affordable housing, transportation, economic opportunity, environmental justice, preserving open spaces, and building for sustainability. Disaster Socialism — unlike Disaster Capitalism — is about using disasters as an opportunity to craft a better world for everyone,  to “Build Back Better”, not just make the rich richer.

There’s a discipline that encompasses those goals: Landscape Architecture. In a world that needs to be rebuilt for what’s coming, this is an essential skill set we need to put to work.

Graphic showing how landscape architecture can tie a region together.

Landscape architecture involves the planning, design, management, and nurturing of the built and natural environments. With their unique skill set, landscape architects work to improve human and environmental health in all communities. They plan and design parks, campuses, streetscapes, trails, plazas, residences, and other projects that strengthen communities.   

On October 15, 2020, Solutionary Rail hosted Landscape Architect Robert Colon in a discussion with Bill Moyer of SR to show how this can work. An on-line presentation detailed how Tampa and the region around it had developed, and where it was headed: increasing sprawl, loss of natural habitats, loss of agriculture, transportation bottlenecks, and so on.

Graphic showing how rail corridors designed along Solutionary Rail principles can transform the urban landscape, providing clean transportation for both people and goods, clean energy, and a connection that ties the region together across lines of history and culture.

Instead, Colon offered a different future, one that would preserve open space and both the jobs and the wildlife that depend on it, while utilizing technology like rail to tie urban and rural landscapes together in a way that would enhance both. It would be more energy efficient, and a far more pleasant way to live.

Graphic illustrating how a combination of private and public means can combine to produce a better result.

Robert Colón on Solutionary Rail and Harmonizing Urban & Rural Landscapes in Florida is a recorded video of the live session, edited down to about 2 hours. Colon uses both historic images and records to show how the Tampa region has evolved over time, and how Landscape Architecture could shape it in the future. 

It’s a wide-ranging discussion that goes beyond laying out pretty architectural designs — it’s a deep dive into social, economic, and historical factors that shape the landscape. Landscape Architecture is a multidisciplinary approach that ties a lot of things together. It requires a new way of thinking about development and what we really need versus what we are getting.

While this is very Tampa-specific, the principles Colon is applying can be adapted to any region. There’s a lot  to unpack — I’d suggest watching it several times and perhaps using it to spark a group discussion of what’s being shown here. (The graphics will make more sense at full screen and with the accompanying explanations of what they show.) Consider how it might be applied to where you live.

This is even more relevant now than it was in 2020. Given that the Inflation Reduction Act investment is going to be rolled out over the next few years, this is something we need to incorporate into it. As we are headed into a future where climate events are going to be increasingly disruptive, it behooves us to turn to tools like Landscape Architecture and proposals like Solutionary Rail to find a better way forward. The last few weeks seem to have been an unending stream of disasters — we don’t lack for opportunities to do better.

The future starts now, ready or not.

 Landscape Architecture 


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