Most landscape architects agree that developing new green spaces—where trees, shrubs, or other vegetation can flourish within a well-designed infrastructure––is critical to making our city neighborhoods more livable. Yet the question remains: how best to do it?
According to Amanda Walker ’11, project designer at the Boston office of OJB, a landscape architecture and urban design firm, Americans spend an average of 93 percent of their time indoors, so it’s important for her to design ways for people to get outdoors and to interact with nature. “The design of outdoor spaces can greatly impact how you feel in a space and how you feel about a place. The presence of trees and lighting, the scale of sidewalks, the types of furniture—these elements can affect whether a city feels safe or inviting,” she says.
In addition to acting as a buffer to stress, improving air quality and creating inviting places for physical activity, greener spaces also revitalize ecosystems, add natural beauty, regulate temperature, and aid soil nutrient cycling, while sequestering carbon. Walker looks to the native ecology and regional materials for inspiration when creating outdoor spaces and considers the balance between offering passive spaces for rest and repose with active spaces for recreation and fun. But not all urban residents have access to welcoming natural spaces, and Walker has set out to rectify that challenge.
Bridging the Divide Through Strategic Partnerships
Originally from Jamaica, Walker is passionate about creating equitable landscapes that foster diversity, inclusion, and well-being for everyone. If green spaces are distributed unequally and focused more on high-income areas, she says, historically underserved neighborhoods won’t reap the same health benefits. Low-income residents are more likely to live in hotter, more crowded neighborhoods and be exposed to higher levels of air pollution than those living in more affluent areas.
Walker has taken the lead as one of the co-creators of OJB’s first Equity in Design Committee, which helps to recruit talented urban designers. One of the roles she has taken on is community engagement and student outreach. This involves volunteering to speak to students in underrepresented communities about landscape architecture as well as partnering with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) to offer opportunities for scholarship, mentoring, and internships. She was recently appointed a committee member on the Black Landscape Architects Network’s Young Professional Council.
Equity Takes Work
Through college and graduate school as well as her first years in the workforce, Walker says she was often the only Black person in the room. As a person of color and as a woman, she would ask herself, “What does that mean in a profession where you are often responsible for advocating for communities and creating spaces for people? How can we design equitable spaces—spaces that reflect and respond to everyone’s interests and needs—if everyone responsible for designing these spaces is white?”
“Children need to see more Black architects and landscape architects; they need to be exposed to these professions; they need to see that their experiences and their ideas are valuable to the profession at large,” she says.
Additionally, she notes, the pandemic has underscored the need for employees in all levels of the workforce to have equal access to the outdoors, particularly in urban areas. “Our freedom to move, to socialize, to exercise, to learn, and to work has been challenged by COVID, and because of those limitations, corporations have been driven to invest more in creating outdoor spaces,” Walker says.
Hotchkiss Helped Her Believe in Herself
Walker credits Hotchkiss with giving her the environment and the support that allowed her to develop her creativity and self-confidence. “When I graduated from Hotchkiss, I was a completely different person. I finally believed in myself and went on to graduate magna cum laude with a double major in architecture and art history from Hobart and William Smith College,” she said.
The experience she had studying in Copenhagen and Rome her junior year further shaped her career path. After she returned for her senior year, she enrolled in Harvard University’s Landscape Architecture master’s program.
“While in Denmark, I was introduced to the concept of social sustainability and how it relates to the design and planning of cities. The architecture program at DIS (Danish Institute for Study Abroad) is heavily engaged with its urban context— teaching you how to visually analyze systems of water, systems of waste and systems of people,” she said.
From her time in Denmark, she learned to look beyond the four walls
of architecture and examine how urban infrastructure, people, and plants coexist. Today, she sees the role of landscape architecture deeply connected to the human condition and the importance of community.
“Landscape architecture involves the shaping of the natural and built environments. The profession challenges you to be sensitive to the ecological context of a site, to respond to the socioeconomic conditions of a community, to find sustainable and resilient design strategies that can help combat the effects of climate change, and to ultimately create a sense of place. I believe in the profession and its relevance as a leader in the battle against climate change and as a voice for more equitable and environmentally conscious cities. There is still so much I have to learn, and I welcome the challenges to come.”