Landscape Literacy and Design for Ecological Democracy: The Nature of Mill Creek
Twenty years ago, I thought that the worst effect of landscape illiteracy was to produce environmental injustice in the form of physical hazards to health and safety. The Sulzberger students showed me that there is an even greater injustice than inequitable exposure to harsh conditions: the internalization of shame for one’s neighborhood. This is a particularly destructive form of injustice. To feel both at home in a place and ashamed of it is harmful. It saps self-esteem and can engender a sense of guilt and resignation. Before the students at Sulzberger Middle School learned to read their landscape more fully, they read it partially. Without an understanding of how the neighborhood came to be, many believed that the poor conditions were the fault of those who lived there, a product of either incompetence or lack of care. Learning that there were other reasons sparked a sense of relief. Once they had the knowledge and skill to read the landscape’s history, they began to see their home in a more positive light, came to appreciate the effort and vision that places like Aspen Farms represent, and to regard some adults, like the gardeners, as heroes. They came to consider the possibility of alternative futures and brimmed with ideas. Secure in their knowledge and their ability to reason, they challenged public officials with confidence and impressed them with articulate proposals. To read and shape landscape is to learn and teach: to know the world, to express ideas, and to influence others.