Thursday, January 13, 2005

Time For the Landscape Architects

And I am one, first off I have to own up to that. For thirty-five years I had my own private landscape architectural practice in the Chicago area.


Disclaimers aside, it’s past time for my profession to be invited in to ameliorate the  “bunkerization” of Washington, as well as our embassies and corporate entities around the world. For one thing, there’s no need to be ugly to be safe and for the second and more important reason, we can ill afford to showcase democracy behind barbed-wire and concrete crash barriers. The problem lies in the frantic call for quick solutions, exacerbated by a mind-set that sees the need as temporary when it is not. The problem is long-term and quite probably permanent, a fact requiring re-thinking of the mindless road-barrier mindset that currently shapes our response to threat.


There are indeed better ways . . . even the old castle-moat was an aesthetically pleasant place to rain arrows upon an attacker. For the most part, security is terrain driven . . . keep the bad guys away from the target and terrain is for the most part manageable. In close-up circumstances such as inner city locations the solution is more difficult and may consist of blast-shielding inside the ground and first floors of buildings as well as beefing up interior structural support, none of which need visually interfere with an exterior fa├žade. In more concentrated venues (and historic Philadelphia is certainly one) our founding architecture and its ancillary modern structures might well be made into pedestrian zones, as is common in historic European city centers. That will hardly stop a backpacker bomb, but  backpacker bombs are unstoppable, as Israel has come to know.


Where there is additional space (and certainly monumental Washington falls into this category), lakes, streams, retaining walls, berms and clusters of trees will serve admirably to screen a more serious purpose. Consider stopping vehicles by use of beautiful cast-iron bollards sprinkled among  clusters of shade trees, underpaved with flagstone or brick. Meandering moats serve a similar purpose . . . they need not even be pedestrian unfriendly, easily grillworked over in such as way as to support people but not vehicles. If gun or rocket fire is the threat, groupings of trees can screen bulletproof glass shields within their groves.


There is almost no terrorist threat that can’t be as effectively disarmed by attractive solution as by the heavy-handed techniques presently being used. As always, the most creative solutions are within the purview of private enterprise rather than bureaucracies. One can hardly imagine a worse idea than giving over such responsibility to the Corps of Engineers or Parks Department.


And finally, we must accept as a nation the reality that no target can be made entirely safe from attack and barricading our democracy is too high a price to pay, both in dollars and in terms of comfortable enjoyment. The annual spring parade of the nation’s schoolchildren to witness the cherry blossoms in our capitol must not become another lesson in how fearful we have become. Thomas L. Friedman, the NYT columnist is correct when he says “We have to find a way of defending ourselves from others' weapons of mass destruction without losing our own weapon of mass attraction.” 


The American Society of Landscape Architects (headquartered of course in Washington) stands ready to recommend firms with international reputations, as well as highly talented small offices to consult with the anti-terror specialist of your choice.


. . . they’re in the book.