Fish to Form | Sustainable Values in Placemaking

My interest in sustainability began long before I was even aware of the field of landscape architecture.  I grew up fishing for small mouth bass with my grandfather in the turquoise poos of backwoods Ozark streams.  Throughout my childhood, I developed a great appreciation for our natural resources and how to act as good stewards of the land, air, and water.  To this day, I can usually be found on a free afternoon, somewhere down a creek searching for smallmouth or trout.  As a fisherman, I understand the delicate ecosystems which make up life in an Ozark waterway.  Smallmouth bass can live to be over twenty years old and the large ones are usually experienced enough to recognize a crawfish pattern for an imposter if it is even slightly the wrong color for that location.  Likewise, as a student of landscape architecture, I am aware of the vast and complex systems which directly affect people and their environment.


As a landscape architecture student, my greatest two interests are sustainability and equality.  I am interested in sustainable systems, environmental justice and urban placemaking. I believe that the next generation of designers entering the workforce will have the opportunity to be involved in a new shift in thinking about sustainable urban public spaces.  I believe there should be a shift in thinking about urban public spaces to fulfilling a more vital role in urban design.  Public spaces historically have been formed simply as the space between buildings, however they have the potential to influence sustainable design in a greater urban fabric as. I believe that public spaces can step into a new roll of dictating urban form through an approach centered around people and sustainable systems.

Human Ecosystems

In his book, ‘Design for Human Ecosystems: Landscape, Land Use, and Natural Resources’ John T. Lyle presented a common view of compartmentalized landscape tropes that include places for people and places for nature.  In addition, Lyle proposed the category spaces of compromise.  However, according to Lyle, this fragmented view is still too narrow. This category acts as an inadequate and unhealthy representation of how to think about shared space.  Rather than viewing shared spaces as compromise, Lyle suggests the design of “Human Ecosystems”.

Lyle advocates for three organizational techniques used for shaping human ecosystems: scale, design process, and order.  Understanding how people interact with ecosystems is fundamental for success.  Ecological consciousness as well as environmental values must exist before the creation of form.  I believe that ecological processes must be made legible through a design orientation centered around sustainability.


Ecosystems exist on a vast variety of scales and all ecosystems exist as a part of a larger whole; this includes urban ecosystems.  From the larger forests and rivers that surround the city to the weeds growing up through cracks in the sidewalk, there exists a connection and a similarity.  These facets of nature are functioning identically apart from location and scale.  In an era of increased global population and increasing consumption pressures, it is vital, as designers and society that we understand the complex interactions of people and the environment, we must move away from the concept that the city exists solely in opposition to nature but rather as a piece of the larger framework.


Design Process

The design process effects the formation of human ecosystems through the ideological constructs of designers, planners, policy makers, and users.  As a future designer I have a responsibility to create lasting, ecologically inspired spaces that function within the natural limits of their environment.  These landscapes should be sustainable within a functioning urban environment with ecological and sustainable values.


Finally, underlying order is vital to the design of human ecosystems.  As a society, we have created vast ecological and environmental problems now which require multifaceted solutions. Lyle references structure, function, and location as rudiments of order.  After graduation from the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design, I plan to pursue a master’s degree in sustainable urban systems to further my knowledge of sustainable urban systems and gain a greater understanding of the important facets of placemaking.


Depletion of fossil fuels.  Solid Waste creation. Global warming. Water scarcity. Loss of biodiversity.  I believe that I can have an impact in combatting all these challenges while addressing needs of people, such as mobility, shelter, and communication; all in a more sustainable matter.  It is time for designers to step up and take on a more active role in society of leaders in sustainability.

Just like my love of fishing, I understand that to be affective in this realm requires dedication and attention to detail.  I hope to learn as much as I can about scale, design process, and order and how these aspects can be applied to contribute to a more sustainable future.