An Address to LABASH 1999

(given March 26 at the University of Kentucky in Lexington)

The theme of this year's LABASH is Review and Preview, so it is appropriate that we should remember the past and consider our future.

Some twenty-five years ago students traveled by automobile to other universities far and wide, to see what was happening with their colleagues in the study of landscape architecture. They recognized the need to get together to discuss their common goals and aspirations, and to celebrate their profession, so they started the annual LABASH.

The tradition continues. Each year new students step forward to host LABASH. They accept the responsibility to provide an opportunity for us to come together.

The Global Network for Rebuilding is honored to have been invited to LABASH four of the last five years. Our presentation and workshop at Guelph in 1995 created opportunities to teach classes at several universities and led to an invitation to speak at the ASLA National Board meeting.

Each LABASH is rewarding, but most rewarding is seeing students discover new interests and friends. Lines of communication opened here are valuable to you and the profession.

Like LABASH, the Global Network for Rebuilding will continue to provide a place where students can come together and learn from each other. Like LABASH, we seek to expose students to diverse ideas and empower them to set their own agenda.

Things have changed a great deal in twenty-five years. With the present technology we can exchange information and work together in cyberspace. Though we might be hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, we can maintain a global network through the Internet.

The unity among landscape architecture students inspired by LABASH can now be expanded over space and time. Student organizations can study in a global university setting. We can work together to accomplish great tasks--building and analyzing databases for needful communities that would not otherwise have the means to afford state-of-the-art planning aid--helping ourselves while we help others.

Distance learning brings with it broader curriculum possibilities, and new opportunities, especially for those students anxious to put theory into practice.

I am here today to talk about those opportunities, a world full of opportunities, where people living in extreme conditions need the kind of help landscape architects can offer.

Compelled by news accounts of the massive destruction in Bosnia, I quit my job as an urban planner for the city of Birmingham and made my way to Sarajevo in the summer of 1994 to offer what aid I could. But the devastation I encountered was immense beyond my imagination, and begged for a united effort.

In the years since that first trip to Sarajevo, traveling across this country to organize students in aid of Bosnia, I have found myself in neighborhoods that remind me of the devastation I saw in Bosnia. It caused me to add domestic projects to our agenda. And it caused me to recognize that there are lessons to be learned from devastated communities everywhere.

The fact that you have chosen landscape architecture as a career tells me that you have a deep regard for the importance of human community. Common sense tells you that a culture thrives or dies according to what happens where its people mix--in the cities. In your heart you want to design, because better habitat means a better world.

In Sarajevo the buildings and streets were lain open so that in the rubble we can see the truth of it. I came away with greater respect for all professions devoted to the creation and preservation of architectural heritage, which is so important to man's culture.

In Sarajevo the city was attacked, but it was a culture that was under siege--a culture spun from the rich tapestry of diverse ethnic influences interwoven through the centuries.

Today, that multiethnic fabric is badly torn. A peace accord provides a temporary patch, but it fails to emphasize the interdependence of those on either side of the new borders. Warlords and politicians come and go; but a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia will require social and economic justice. On the micro level they need site plans for orphanages, schools and business locations; on the macro scale, for villages and new cities.

The siege from 1992 to 1995 destroyed much of Sarajevo's beauty. The hundred-year-old Austro-Hungarian city hall with its thousands of precious books and manuscripts; the main bazaars of Bascarsija; one of the most beautiful railway stations in Europe; the Winter Olympics sports halls, Zetra and Skenderija --all were devastated by artillery fire.

The same fate befell government and parliamentary offices, and elegant commercial buildings, including the offices of the leading daily newspaper. The city's communication and transportation facilities were left in ruins, as were its hospitals. More than half of its apartments were destroyed.

As a human being, I was appalled to see an urban landscape targeted for the very reason of its artistic and emotional value. But as an urban planner I understood fully its strategic value.

As a pacifist, I was appalled to witness women and children targeted and shot down like combatants in the streets of their home town, a whole population cowering. But as an urban planner I recognized the diabolical genius in depriving the population of those simple things, like freedom of movement, formerly taken for granted.

As a longtime activist in civil rights, I was appalled by the concept of "ethnic cleansing" that drove the aggression. As an urban planner i recognized its futility--dividing Bosnia along ethnic lines impairs the entire region economically.

So, what are the urban design issues left behind by mass destruction? What can we in America learn from this foreign mess?

First, one must acknowledge that the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina are constrained to live in the limited geography of the federation, and, regardless of current animosities, will have to continue to do so in future. Second, all sides are economically interdependent--sharing indivisible resources such as roads, markets, power grids and water sources--and will continue to be. Therefore, an objective basis for peace and prosperity can only be found in the properties and requirements of the land and the peoples who inhabit it.

Urban design and regional planning are tools equally as important as economics and politic science in helping to identify these vital interests, and of paramount importance in assessing the status of crucial infrastructure that directly impacts lifestyles and livelihoods on a daily basis.

But how can sworn adversaries be expected to coalesce around any city or regional plan, regardless its benefits?

The answer lies in concentrating public awareness on areas of broad commonality of interest, instead of allowing divisive issues to dominate civic discourse!

Landscape architects can play a crucial role in conflict resolution. Urban design and regional planning are tools equally as important as economics and politic science in helping to identify these vital interests, and of paramount importance in assessing the status of crucial infrastructure that directly impacts lifestyles and livelihoods on a daily basis. I'm talking about food, water, power, communications, transportation and safety, and a community's capacity to deliver them.

Land planning tools, such as overlay mapping of relational database coverages, provide a visual means through which all citizens can gain a grasp of the larger picture--and through it, recognize self-interest in cooperation.

To an extent unimaginable a decade ago, the ideal of a global network led by landscape architects rebuilding devastated communities is taking on form and substance. Throughout the world, immense intellectual energies are gathering information and developing technologies that can be used by knowledgeable landscape architects to achieve great results. For instance, the US military has digitized and studied Bosnia in minute detail.

These advances in technology provide new opportunities for landscape architects. Landscape architects can become the cupbearers of knowledge and guides to community restoration throughout the world. The Global Network for Rebuilding wants to help you use the technology to achieve these goals.

This wondrous age has made feasible the proliferation of high-speed communications nodes connecting universities. It would have been impractical before the all-reaching Internet made it possible, and economical, for student designers virtually anywhere in the world to merge their complementary talents on behalf of common goals.

This new capacity to transmit large quantities of digitized information enables us to enlist the aid of many participants in the simultaneous production of various overlay map layers necessary for reconstruction planning and design. With the availability of fast, inexpensive binary data transmission, students from member universities working in parallel can readily combine their information and continually update their perspectives on work in progress as it evolves. As well, data submission from other sources (such as government agencies or corporate GIS software vendors) can be efficiently introduced into the Network. And most importantly, potential end-users in faraway lands like Bosnia have the ability to contribute site data on an as-needed basis and inspect Network product during the various stages of its production cycle.

Imagine what we could do if we all worked together.

Much of the work in putting the Global Network for Rebuilding theory into action has already been done. The Global Network for Rebuilding wants you to take advantage of our resources, which include software, training, and databases, as well as the active support of design professionals and students both here and abroad.

We need motivated, innovative students willing to use their thesis or special studies work toward developing a network that will open new doors for the profession worldwide.

If that kind of challenge sounds inviting, we encourage you to start a Global Network for Rebuilding Student Organization at your university. We can provide you with the software, database, and technical support to help you learn the technology. We also offer training in ArcView and ARC/INFO, personally authorized by Jack Dangermond, CEO of GIS-industry leader ESRI, Inc.

We hope you will visit Birmingham this summer and start your thesis using the GIS technology and our Bosnia database.

Take advantage of the valuable GIS software available to those students who organize and participate in this exciting endeavor.

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