Academic focus: Working landscapes, green and living infrastructures, resiliency planning, rural design, community engagement
My research focuses on rural landscapes, particularly landscapes of extraction, production and conservation, as urgent sites of design in the context of climate change. Recent projects include exploring the potential application of blue-green infrastructure to address both flooding and water quality issues in rural and productive landscapes. Ex. Can roads or hedgerows be designed better to improve water quality while sequestering carbon?
Having come to academia from practice in New York City, I’m aware that an essential part of this work involves creative engagement with communities, to help them see problems as well as opportunities. How can you make people care about often invisible issues like water quality? How can design proposals allow people to imagine new forms of public space?
Exhibitions, mapping, case studies and podcasts are an extension of design practice that can educate communities about critical issues and start meaningful conversations.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Spending as much time outside as possible — hiking, running, canoeing and exploring the Finger Lakes — usually with my 3-year-old daughter in tow. Music is also a great outlet, so I love taking time to play piano or have impromptu karaoke nights with my family.
What are your current outreach/extension projects?
In my teaching and future outreach, I’m interested in working with New York state communities that need to adapt to the risks of climate change — such as increasing flash flood events and drought — but might not have the resources to do so otherwise.
Last fall, I taught an undergraduate studio course that looked at the potential for Route 363 in downtown Binghamton to be redesigned as a resilient and polyfunctional green-blue infrastructure, creating both waterfront public space and much needed flood protection. We worked with a number of city and state stakeholders, and several of the city partners expressed interest in sharing the studio work with the community, and also highlighted areas they’d like to see explored further.
I’d like to run a follow-up studio that looks more closely at a notorious low-head dam adjacent to the site, and look at how dam removal or modification could create recreational access, reduce risk and increase habitat connectivity.
What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?
Driven, curious and kind
What brought you to Cornell CALS?
I started teaching at Cornell as a lecturer in 2016, and immediately felt at home here. It’s a dream to work with such dedicated students and talented colleagues. Most landscape architecture programs are in urban centers, and Cornell is unique in having a world-class arboretum, botanic gardens and experiment stations for teaching and research within such close proximity.
What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?
Landscape architecture is really a STEM field. We apply design thinking and research to address complex environmental and social problems in the built environment. We use both living and non-living materials — meaning that our designs must consider how they change over time, and how they create meaningful places for people.
While an engineer might propose a hardened flood wall or levee to reduce flooding, a landscape architect might ask how regrading that same river edge could also create habitat and provide civic space, and propose a more gradual slope could provide access to the riverfront while still reducing risk. We consider the social implications of design as well as the physical and ecological.
Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?
While my undergraduate studies were in visual art and documentary, I was always a bit of a science and design geek, taking elective courses in conservation biology, geology and urban planning. It wasn’t until after graduation that I discovered this field even existed.
Landscape architecture is at the nexus between architecture, art, engineering, natural sciences, horticulture and public engagement. As a field, it offers a rich set of tools and skills to address real-world issues in collaboration with communities and other disciplines. Nutrient management, how cities adapt to rising sea levels, how a city block can adapt to promote social distancing, etc., are all essentially design questions that require complex thinking across scales.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?
Stumbling upon the Garden of Stones by Andy Goldsworthy at sunset in the Arboretum.
If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?
Many people in my field are focused on how cities and coastal communities can adapt to shifting climates. For example, the recent Rebuild by Design competitions have focused on how New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area can adapt to sea level rise and protect from increasing storm surge.
However, there is so much urgent work to be done with inland and rural areas, not only in adapting to climate change, but actively exploring how land-based strategies might strengthen rural communities while mitigating impacts. How can agricultural lands both sequester carbon and strengthen critical migration corridors? How can the resulting landscapes that emerge be beautiful or meaningful enough for people to care for them? This last point is too often overlooked — I’ve seen so many green infrastructural projects that fail because people aren’t invested and don’t maintain them.
In professional practice, we often work in teams that include engineers, coastal ecologists, and community partners such a local non-profits; the same cross-disciplinary approach is needed within academic practice as well.
We openly share valuable knowledge. Often through email.
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