Theory & Discorse
Landscape Architects: How Relevant Are We and Whom Do We Serve | Akshay Kaul
LA 57
Though the largest democracy, India is a country that is struggling with an ever-increasing population that is plagued with unemployment, environmental stress and other social problems. Do Landscape Architects not have a social and moral duty to extend beyond merely designing and also apply our expertise towards building a better society that is respectful of its environment as well as its people.

Having said that, however, it is also important to acknowledge that landscape architects are but a fraction of the stakeholders in the current scenario. We, thus, need to collaborate with various professionals from allied fields and work together to alleviate the country from its current, unfortunate state.
We stand at a critical juncture in time in the country concerning social, environmental, education, health and infrastructure issues in a shrinking democracy. As a country, we are 1.36 billion and projected to be 1.70 billion in the next 30 years. A country where 50% of its population is below the age of 25 and 65% below the age of 35. Ours is a country, where one in every five Indian, lives below poverty level (BPL) and gets less than rupees 140 per day. Our BPL population is little short of the entire population of USA. We are all aware of these issues at a personal level and are concerned. Can we as landscape architects contribute to alleviating this, is something we need to contemplate? Though it is challenging to have a practice solely based on social and environmental advocacy. Globally there are architects and other professionals work in these areas. Shigeru Ban's contribution since 1995 for post-disaster rehabilitation through architecture across the world is well known. There are others who work with indigenous people to help augment income through eco tourism based livelihood projects. IFLA has recently started a program, Landscape Architecture Without Borders, which is looking at some of these issues under its various regions. For the last four years, a substantial amount of our work is in conflict areas, with the marginalised section of societies and especially with youth.

In a society like ours, poverty, livelihood and sustainability of environment are very closely interlinked. In the last thirty years, we have not looked at these three in an integrated manner. Our environment which can become a source for livelihood and youth engagement has deteriorated instead. Most of the surface urban and rural water bodies are non-potable. We are extracting groundwater that probably dates to millions of years. India itself extracted nearly 30% of the total fresh groundwater reserves, according to NASA's Grace Satellite in 2010. Our glaciers are receding consistently, our rivers are getting silted, and some of them are not making their journey back to the sea. Our lakes are drying or vanishing; our cities are flooding more often and in higher intensity. Our waterways have fragmented, their catchments shrunk, fractured or reclaimed.


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