The world is changing. It is an irrefutable fact that the landscapes, land usage, and design approaches in 2020 and beyond will be radically different than years before. There are several reasons why landscape architects and city planners should shift their methods to account for these 2020 sustainable landscape architecture trends. Some of these reasons lead to sustainable landscape architecture trends that could stay indefinitely. Mainly, there should be a savvy use of available resources that have a positive response to the environment. Designs should embrace regenerative or active roles in the area that seek to change. Sustainable landscapes can also actively contribute to the development of healthy communities when done correctly. Well-implemented sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value. Smart designs have significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.

For landscape architecture to be relevant as a discipline, it needs to do more than just check the sustainability boxes. It needs to set out a broader set of cultural, social, and environmental ambitions that allow the discipline to evolve with an evolving world. -Chris Reed, American Society of Landscape Architects

This list splits into two different categories of sustainable landscape architecture: large scale projects for city-wide master plans and green infrastructure and small-scale projects like playgrounds, community gardens, and private yards. Let’s take a look at some of the trends that we could see more of this year!

Large Scale

Master plans that integrate the surrounding landscape and community infrastructure

Master plans offer more than just a cursory glance or concept at what could become of a space. By definition, master plans make a comprehensive or far-reaching plan of action. A master plan includes analysis, recommendations, and proposals for a site’s population, economy, housing, transportation, and land use. Why should cities and communities invest in these plans? Sustainable planning can offer good places to live and also break down the economic and spatial buffer zones. These zones can keep communities from interacting with one another in meaningful ways. Master plans that extend far beyond 2020 will need to remain flexible for the long term as climate brings changes in weather across the globe. An example of a large-scale production currently in development is the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, which aims to transform 32 miles of concrete-lined river into public green space, an ecological and recreational corridor.

Technology crossover and new tool integration for better and more efficient design

Erie Street Plaza

Landscape design is no longer limited to mockups in computer-aided design programs. A real synergy between aesthetic and sustainable design will come from embracing many different fields of technology and science to work with encroaching climate change.

The Erie Street Plaza in Milwaukee has the design integrated with the ecological functions of the river. In this way, stormwater, even river water, was redirected, so there was no reason to install a new set of water systems to drain all the water. Additionally, there was a system of interspersed paving, and planting could be reconfigurable over time. This hardscape reinforced the adaptability aspect of a solid master plan. The technologies often borrowed from other disciplines like engineering or hydrology can work together to create amazing things that are regenerative. Take the vortex turbine, for instance. By using engineer modeling tools in a very logical way, innovation can expand. Expect to see other inventive uses with engineered materials with which building architects are currently testing and working.

Small Scale

Using Local Resources to their utmost utility with an emphasis on the recyclable or reusable.

Urban construction and deconstruction must take the path of least resistance in its execution. To make the most of the resources available, leaving deconstructed materials for reuse is not only cost-efficient; it dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of transporting those materials to either a dump or recycling center. Proper planning for resource management is crucial and can save time and money in the short and long term. Like this animation from the American Society of Landscape Architects shows, turning waste into a park is a viable option for transforming former condemned buildings or vacant lots into inviting public spaces. With the needs of the environment at the forefront of urban planners and city landscaping professionals, resource management will continue to be a vital goal of 2020.

Designing spaces that encourage education and play

The ability to enjoy a walk through a park, exercise in green public space or visit a botanical garden installation work well for the mental wellbeing of those that use it. Yet, we can’t forget about the

Woodland Discovery Playground

upcoming generation of children and their health. Growing up without these outdoor spaces would not impart the environmental stewardship the world desperately needs. Two projects that seek to fix this disparity are the Rooftop Haven for Urban Agriculture and the Woodland Discovery Playground. The former focuses on providing students and children with hands-on activities about environmental sustainability. The latter promotes a sense of discovery and increases opportunities for environmental education by being surrounded by a woodland biome. Both of these projects are a sample of what community awareness and innovative, sustainable landscape architecture can bring to an old formula.

Re-wilding urban and rural properties

The definition of re-wilding is “restoring an area of land to its natural, uncultivated state,” concerning the reintroduction of wild animals that have been driven out. Again, landscape architects look toward the future with climate change on their minds. Some large scale efforts (hundreds of acres) attempt to restore and protect natural processes in the conservation biology realm. Other small-scale projects (dozens of acres) are just as effective in restoring the habitat and shelter for various animals and insects. These projects also re-capture the natural beauty that defines an area. Spectacular wildlife land bridges offer the best of what biologists and civil engineers have to offer. Still, residential re-wilding is equally essential to help regrow marginalized, inner-city habitat. Landscape architects specializing in prairie restoration, or wetland creation are helping bring nature back from the fringes of metropolitan sprawl to create healthy spaces to live and work. 

Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.