Why and How: Interdisciplinary Perspectives for Ecological Restoration

This guest post if from Teresa Pereira, winner of our Why Restore? video contest

As I settle back into my routine (and coursework) in Philadelphia, I am reflective of the takeaways from the Society for Ecological Restoration’s World Conference in Madison. I got to peel into deeper layers of the question that Island Press prompted students to answer in the video contest: why restore? As there are countless of perfect reasons to increase the personal, ecological, cultural, and socio-economic values of our degraded landscapes, it is the how that I was interested in hearing about at the conference. It is the how that transforms challenges into active communities in search of solutions—and what a great group of communities that came together last week.

I was especially interested in the projects that highlighted the interdisciplinary components of ecological restoration. The first symposium I attended was “Ecology in Practice: Creative Conservation,” where the role of art was emphasized in landscape restoration. From Mobile Eco-Studio’s native plantings of the nopal cactus in Phoenix to the social/ecological sculptures of Jackie Brookner, these artists are using creative processes to reintroduce functional components of a native ecosystem to local communities. Their work nurtures collaboration between humans and the land, which fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility within people to restore their own landscapes. Their works are great examples of extending the practice of restoration to a public scale, where projects can generate momentum through education and outreach, as well as media and technology.

Throughout the rest of the conference, I was in tune with other methods that experts are using to advance their work into the public realm. John Liu’s films are beautiful, moving, and articulate testaments to the strength of communities when they are engaged in the problem-solving process of revitalizing their own land. Many practitioners used clear and concise visuals such as graphs, animation, and modeling to translate technical elements of their projects. I appreciated when speakers were able to relay the contextual significance of their restoration work through data and statistics. Websites such as CitSci.org facilitate monitoring support via citizens, and Earth Economics provide ecologically sound economic analysis. I learned a new word: meraviglia, which refers to a sense of wonder—something landscape architect Catharina Sack attributed her design process to include in creating sustainable places in Perth, Australia. I got to pick the brain of landscape architect and horticulturalist Travis Beck on his new book, Principles of Ecological Landscape Design. I even got to sit next to and briefly converse with Luc Gnacadja, the former UN Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification on the way to the airport.

This intersection of sharing and learning about our environmental and social work in restoration is an ideal place to derive necessary knowledge and inspiration for an evolving practice. As a graduate student, I look forward to these events, and value such prompts as Island Press’s “why restore?” because it is a junction of action, reflection, and presentation, which are all fundamental in a restoration project, but not so easy to translate succinctly. The question of why and how evoke strong answers, as I witnessed in Madison last week. Through the video contest, we can see that this film/video can be an invaluable tool to relay essential elements of our restoration efforts to our colleagues and the public—in 4 minutes or less. That’s really powerful.

For our video, “Why Restore: Lessons Learned by Budding Landscape Architects,” Taylor Keegan and I wanted to emphasize the holistic approach that we take at Temple University in learning and designing the land. We wanted to document the work that we were already doing, and present it as an informative, sensory, and necessary practice. It seemed the perfect fit for our “other” skills, too: I’m a videographer/editor, and Taylor is a photographer with a background in political science. The rest of the students in our Master of Landscape Architecture program also come from very diverse disciplines—from science to humanities, to education and the arts. Perhaps our wide range of perspectives drives us to ask why and how all the time. It’s true that it’s something we’ll have to keep asking and reiterating, and continue applying to all aspects of our restoration work—but we must also learn to engage the greater population with these questions in order to generate active responses that can transform not only our degraded ecosystems from the ground up, but collectively learn to build a sustainable relationship with our surrounding land.