How can landscape architects become active agents in making positive changes in the world? How can design and planning be part of a movement for social and environmental justice? How can activism reinvigorate the social practice of landscape architecture and the allied professions?
'Design Activism' encompasses a wide range of socially and environmentally responsible actions in design and planning. From community advocacy in American inner cities to the tsunami relief efforts in South Asia and recovery effort in post-Katrina New Orleans, the involvement of design and planning professionals testifies to the significance of design activism in making positive social and environmental change.
The term 'design activism' was first used in the 5th Conference of Pacific Rim Community Design Network organized by the department in 2004. It has since become an emerging discourse in the design profession that parallels a resurging interest in the social practice of design as indicated in the publication of Design Like You Give a Damn (Architecture for Humanity 2006) and Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism (Bell and Wakeford, eds. 2008).
The Department emphasizes active engagement of citizens in all of its focal areas - ecological infrastructure, ecological literacy, culturally based placemaking, and human and environmental health. We believe that engagement of users, communities, and the public is critical to creating a just and sustainable environment. The design studios in particular provide opportunities for service learning, advocacy, and community-university partnerships.
In recent years, the Department has worked with Native American tribes in the Northwest, local schools in Seattle, Asian American communities in the Puget Sound, rural towns in Alaska, and many other community organizations both local and abroad. Through these projects, students and faculty collaborate with communities to bring multiple and creative definitions of design problems, engage in design development, and support implementation and stewardship of design solutions.
In addition to the program activities, faculty and students have extensive involvement in a number of advocacy and non-profit groups, including Architects without Borders Seattle Chapter. The department's experience in building community-university partnerships was highlighted in the "Community-University Partnerships Case Studies Series," published by UW's Educational Partnerships and Learning Technologies.