Anne Hayner, MLA I 2021

Summer 2019

Organization: Detroit Planning & Development Dept, Detroit, MI

Sponsor: Doebele Community Service Fellowship


“How does a landscape architect think about public land?

Landscape architecture can be amorphous field. This summer raised several questions for me regarding the role of landscape architecture in a municipal setting. The first theme which I hope to reflect on is the way that the term “landscape” makes for confusion: it is a word that is easily conflated. Given the general way in which the modifier “landscape” is applied, landscape architecture can take on different roles within different fields.

One way in which this manifested was in gaps in communication when “landscape” was used at various times to mean a medium, a subject, or an end goal. In studio, landscape is all three. But in the municipal setting, different people have different opinions about what landscape should be, and when and how it should be used. Sometimes, vacant land was the subject, but the intervention involved construction of a building. Conversely, a less explicitly spatial issue might have a landscape intervention. A landscape question doesn’t necessarily imply a landscape intervention.

In the municipal setting, landscape architecture was viewed as one tool in a kit of strategies for addressing various problems in the city. One the one hand, this was a much more limited scope than what landscape takes on in academia, and in many ways, it limits the power that landscape offers. As a field, it has the potential not just to advise on the use of plants and grading and open space, but also to create spatialized strategy for space and movement across place and time in a city.

On the other hand, I think that being at the Planning & Development Department reminded me that landscape-thinking requires a gut check.  It was important to realize that landscape, in both the physical and the strategic sense, is not always the right answer. Sometimes the answer is a tax policy or a community outreach strategy, or even a financial model for maintenance and upkeep, rather than a new design. In studio, there is always a spatial, physical intervention reflecting upon larger forces.  However, the best solution may be a spatial or financial policy that influences space without designing it. I’m wondering and almost hoping that studio this year will offer me the chance to move away from spatial solution and to think more carefully about spatial influence.”