Landscape architects are, and will be, very influential in addressing the impact of climate change on our communities and the natural environment. The knowledge and attitudes of landscape architects about climate change will determine the extent to which they commit to design practices that mitigate impacts such as flooding, salt water intrusion, and temperature and precipitation changes. With this in mind, it is important to understand landscape architects’ perceptions and beliefs about climate change, to what degree these beliefs influence design practices, and what information and strategies are relevant and needed to help landscape architects address the impacts of climate change on the natural and built environment.
As a starting point for understanding current beliefs and perceptions that influence practice, and getting feedback from practitioners in the field, in the fall of 2016 we created and distributed a survey to active licensed landscape architects to gather information about knowledge, perceptions, and beliefs regarding climate change. Results from this research provide information on the potential relevance of climate change to landscape architectural practice, barriers to implementation of climate-smart design practices, and potential strategies that can be used in practice to address climate change.
The survey included a total of 10 questions and an informed consent. Licensee information, including email addresses provided by landscape architects to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) was requested and used to create an initial survey sample of 1,072 recipients. Where possible, contact information was updated if more up-to-date email addresses were known.
Survey questions were identified with the aim of collecting information on landscape architects’ perceptions regarding climate change, specific impacts from climate change, and potential strategies for adaptation. A combination of multiple choice and Likert-type questions were used to permit respondents to express various degrees of agreement or disagreement with statements in the survey. Participants also had the option to provide written comments. Once draft survey questions were identified, a beta version was circulated among colleagues for input on format and clarity, and Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was requested to conduct the study. The survey was created using SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey .com). An email to the recipients introducing the project, providing a hyperlink to the survey, and informed consent on SurveyMonkey was sent to all recipients in November 2016, followed with a second email reminding recipients to participate one week before the survey was closed in December 2016. A total of 30 days was allowed for responses. After the survey was closed, a follow up email was sent to recipients providing a basic summary of results and timeline for the project moving forward.
The survey questions provided both nominal and ordinal scale observations. SurveyMonkey reported the number of responses for each answer choice and the total number of responses for each question. We used this data to determine the frequency of each response choice. For the Likert-type questions, we aggregated “Strongly Agree” with “Agree” and “Strongly Disagree” with “Disagree” to facilitate determination of overall trends.
Participants provided approximately 20 written comments for each question. We used grounded theory to analyze these results because it allowed us to identify themes that arose from the data. During analysis, we grouped the written responses from each question, and then we coded the responses in a qualitative data analysis program (Atlas.ti). Codes for each question were aggregated to determine the prevalence of a particular attitude or perception. One challenge that arose was that a few participants entered the same or similar comment in response to each question.
Of the initial 1,072 survey recipients, 47 messages were received indicating a recipient error (resulting from an inactive email address, full email inbox, or rejected email), leaving a total of 1,025 recipients who received the survey invitation. Of these, 279 recipients viewed the survey (27.2% of the survey sample) and 219 responded to at least one question in addition to the informed consent (a response rate of 21.3%). 183 unique comments were also received in response to survey questions, not including comments received via email. The following section summarizes the results for each of the questions. Questions 1 and 10 were multiple choice questions. Questions 2 through 9 requested responses on a Likert scale with a range of options including “strongly disagree”, “disagree”, “neutral”, “agree”, and “strongly agree”. To simplify interpretation of the data, “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” responses have been aggregated along with “Strongly Disagree” with “Disagree” responses. A section for comments was provided for Questions 2-10, with a total of 183 separate comments provided throughout the survey that are summarized here.
The first survey question presented respondents with four statements about the relevance of climate change and asked that they choose the statement they most agreed with. Respondents indicated a high level of agreement that climate change was relevant to current and/or future landscape architecture projects. Figure 1 shows the question and answer choices, as well as the percentage of respondents who chose for each answer.
The next two questions further explored participants’ beliefs about the relevance of climate change to landscape architecture projects and why they felt that it was or was not relevant to current or future projects. An important note about both of these questions is that although respondents were asked to respond to either Question 2 or Question 3, it is possible that some responded to both, making strict interpretation of the summary results difficult without analyzing individual responses.
Question 2 asked the participants who stated that climate change was not relevant for current or future landscape architecture projects in Florida (answer choice “c” in Question 1) to indicate their level of agreement with 5 statements providing a possible rationale for their beliefs. Figure 2 shows the statements that were provided and the results for Question 2. Among landscape architects who felt that climate change is not relevant to current or future projects: many believe the climate or weather is changing, but say their clients are not concerned (not interested) in addressing it, that what landscape architects already do is appropriate (for example pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and other sustainability approaches), or that although scientists may have the information to justify changing current practices most clients don’t budget for additional services or costs related to a change of practice simply because of climate change. One commented that the profession needs to address climate change and identify elements of practice that will be affected and current practices that will require change. Another noted that emphasis should be on inappropriate development patterns rather than climate change. A number of respondents felt that climate change was a politically or economically motivated issue, denied human influence, and/or stated that changes were part of long term climate phenomena.
Question 3 asked the participants who stated that climate change was relevant for current or future landscape architecture projects in Florida (answers “a” or “b” in Question 1) to indicate their level of agreement with 5 statements providing a possible rationale for their beliefs. Figure 3 shows the statements that were provided and the results for Question 3. Among landscape architects who say climate change is relevant: most said that tidal flooding, temperature, and precipitation changes will affect plant choices. In addition, sea-level rise and precipitation changes will impact material choices, irrigation, and stormwater design. In coastal areas most agreed sea-level rise would change the type and location of uses, with one participant saying heavy engineering would be needed. Other comments addressed the slow rate of change, lack of proof, unpredictable extent of climate change, and need for evaluation of use patterns when considering climate change. As with Question 2, results from this question might include responses from participants who were not intended respondents (i.e. respondents who don’t believe climate change is relevant), making interpretation of the results slightly more complicated.
Question 4 addressed information needs and asked participants what information is needed for landscape architects to incorporate climate change into landscape architectural projects. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 9 statements. The last two of these statements are similar for Questions 4-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 4 shows the remaining 7 statements and the results for Question 4. Most landscape architects did not feel they had sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions about climate change and that more general information was needed, including maps showing the location and depth of sea-level flooding, information on precipitation and temperature changes, and updated plant hardiness zone maps. Most felt more information on design strategies to address climate change was needed, although some commented that we should continue using existing sustainability practices such as pursuing LEED certification. Most agreed we need to increase client awareness through public outreach, with two respondents commenting that the information needs to be reliable and non-political.
Question 5 addressed planting design and asked how climate change should be considered in current plant choices and landscape design today. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 7 statements. The last three of these statements are similar for Questions 5-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 5 shows the remaining 4 statements and the results for Question 5. Most landscape architects agreed that salt-tolerant and adaptable (water and drought tolerant) plants were needed in areas impacted by sea-level rise and/or precipitation changes. Hardy plants are also needed to withstand temperature fluctuations, primarily warmer temperatures. Some comments noted that plants are not high enough in value and/or are too short-lived to warrant making changes to planting palettes in response to an uncertain climate change. Most also agreed that many climate change issues are already addressed in currently promoted landscape practices.
Question 6 addressed stormwater and irrigation and asked how climate change should be considered in stormwater and irrigation design today. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 6 statements. The last three of these statements are similar for Questions 5-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 6 shows the remaining 3 statements and the results for Question 6. Most landscape architects agreed that additional capacity should be included in stormwater design and that low-flow and reclaimed irrigation should also be used. However, in comments they also advocated the use of stormwater capture and re-circulation, infiltration, green infrastructure, green roofs, restoring wetlands and low-areas, and low impact development (LID) practices. Most agreed that permeable paving should be used more widely, however, some pointed out problems such as clogging, lack of maintenance, and problems with sand bases in high traffic areas. Others commented that big issues need big solutions such as rethinking where we live and vacating parts of the state.
Question 7 addressed material choices and asked how climate change should be considered in site material selection (such as furniture and paving choices) and construction practices today. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 5 statements. The last three of these statements are similar for Questions 5-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 7 shows the remaining 2 statements and the results for Question 7. Most landscape architects agreed that site materials and construction techniques should be able to withstand harsh climate conditions brought on by climate change, such as flooding, erosion, and corrosion. Comments included continuing with LEED and Florida-Friendly Landscape (FFL) best practices. However, because many products and projects already have a short lifespan in coastal areas durable construction is currently being used. Several comments included the suggestion of vacating and/or relocation and the need for long-term solutions to coastal flooding and climate change.
Question 8 addressed site design and program, asking how climate change should be considered when choosing the types and locations of uses on current projects. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 6 statements. The last three of these statements are similar for Questions 5-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 8 shows the remaining 3 statements and the results for Question 8. Most landscape architects agreed that uses less likely to be impacted by flooding should be used nearshore and those that are more vulnerable (such as buildings) should be set back. Most also agreed vegetation was the most useful solution for shoreline stabilization but that site hardening techniques could also be used. Comments included the use of setbacks, relocation, and non-construction zones to reduce erosion risks while others felt that people build on the coastline at their own risk. Others noted that the state economy relies on shoreline construction and that a cost/benefit analysis should determine land use.
Question 9 asked respondents if there a specific type of client who is more likely to be receptive to incorporating climate change considerations into project design. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement to 7 statements. The last three of these statements are similar for Questions 5-9 so are not included below and are summarized later. Figure 9 shows the remaining 4 statements and the results for Question 9. Most landscape architects agreed that public clients, such as state and local governments, are more likely to be receptive when considering climate change, commenting they may be more likely to afford new construction approaches. There was not general agreement on the likelihood of private clients to be receptive to climate change considerations in projects. Comments on private clients included economic considerations, such as clients not being willing to spend unless there is a return on investment, and the probability of clients having a greater concern for short term impacts to sites and projects. They agreed that clients living in coastal areas are more likely to be impacted and those with greater investments will experience greater loss.
In addition to the questions/answer choices already described, Questions 4-9 included a Likert-type question asking respondents to indicate their level of agreement with a statement saying that climate changes are occurring too slowly to be relevant to landscape architects today, and a second statement saying that climate change is not occurring so is not a relevant concern for landscape architects. Questions 5-9 added an additional Likert-type question asking respondents to indicate whether they felt they knew enough about climate change to answer the question. For all three of these questions respondents were provided the same options of choosing “strongly agree”, “agree”, “neutral”, “disagree”, or “strongly disagree” for their answer. Results were similar for these questions throughout the survey, with the majority of respondents disagreeing with all three statements. Although the inclusion of these questions introduces some redundancy into the survey, it is useful to compare the responses across questions and to see that there is general consistency.
An additional question was asked to identify respondents’ primary professional role as a landscape architect. Respondents were given the option to select all that applied. Figure 10 summarizes the results for Question 10.
Preliminary results from this study show that the strong majority of landscape architects who responded to the survey perceive climate change to be relevant for current and/or future projects. However, exactly how and to what degree climate change should be considered in current and future projects, and how clients, policy, and budgets are related to landscape architects’ decisions related to climate change are questions that are still being explored and likely have no simple answers. A full description and discussion of the survey results can be found in the publication listed below, available on Kindle and Amazon.
Volk, M., Hansen, G., Nettles, B. (2018). Incorporating Climate Change into Landscape Architectural Projects and Practice. In Nawari, N., Clark, N. (Eds). Tropical Storms as a Setting for Adaptive Development and Architecture: iNTA 2017. 6th International Network of Tropical Architecture 2017 Conference Proceedings.