For good measure

Last month, I wrote about ways of approaching consultation and community engagement on landscape schemes in order to find out what people want and to involve them meaningfully in the design process. But what about when the scheme is completed and in use? How do we measure what a landscape is achieving and assess the extent to which it is fulfilling its intended objectives? Do we continue to engage with users or hand over and move on?

Landscape design blends art and science. Creating a landscape that provides experiential
pleasure is an art, underpinned by the science of designing a place that performs vital functions and provides numerous benefits to humans, wildlife and ecosystems. While beauty and aesthetic quality are not easily quantifiable, a completed landscape project can be measured and analysed for sustainability, social, ecological and economic indicators to assess its effectiveness. This kind of data is vital to promoting landscape, showing that good design, construction and maintenance pays dividends in many ways.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation in the US has launched a website designed to do
just that (http://landscapeperformance.org). It provides ‘a set of resources to help designers, agencies and advocates evaluate performance, show value and make the case for sustainable landscape solutions’. A database of case studies, a ‘fast facts’ library and a collection of performance measuring toolkits and calculators, all fully tagged, categorised and searchable, offers a knowledge base for anyone needing to backup arguments with facts and figures.

The fast facts section consists of a great collection of published research evidence
showing the proven positive impacts of a wealth of landscape interventions, from natural play areas to street trees, sustainable drainage systems and green roofs. There is useful data on flood reduction techniques, natural noise barriers, traffic management, planting choices and more. References to articles and real world case studies are included wherever possible. The case studies are currently all projects in the US, but the evidence for the demonstrable social and environmental benefits of landscape is universal.

According to the Landscape Performance Series website: “By embracing performance
measures and evaluating the performance of built projects, we can elevate the quality of
designed and planned landscapes. “As we continue to study the connections between landscape and the health of ecosystems, people and economies, we increase our understanding and our collective capacity to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability. As the body of knowledge related to landscape performance grows, it will inform public policy, reduce investor risk and improve return on investment.”

The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s aim is clearly not only to raise design standards
and advance the functional effectiveness of landscapes, but also to improve the status of
the landscape profession in the eyes of clients and decision makers. Landscape practitioners know that landscape design is about more than making a place look
nice. Good landscape can have significant positive effects on mental wellbeing, physical
health, children’s development and a sense of community, not to mention improving biodiversity and air quality, reducing flood risk and the list goes on. Such claims carry little weight without credible evidence to back them up, however. This new website will help practitioners provide exactly that.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 edition of Pro Landscaper magazine.

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