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Organizing Fellow:
Ann Leone, French Studies & Landscape Studies

Neilson-Kahn Seminar: Ecological DemocracyThe 2009-2010 Neilson-Kahn Seminar is an innovative collaboration involving the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, the 2010 Neilson Professor, and the Landscape Studies Program. It will explore new principles for urban design that will allow people to forge connections with their fellow citizens and the natural environment by combining the powerful forces of ecology and democracy. The Seminar will integrate lectures, a research colloquium, and an interdisciplinary community of scholars considering the topic of Ecological Democracy from the unique perspectives of their various disciplines.

The Seminar will consist of eight sessions, including seven lectures and one panel discussion, that will be embedded within the course LSS 100: Issues in Landscape Studies. The three Neilson Professor Lectures, to be delivered by Randolph Hester, from the University of California at Berkeley, will be incorporated into the seminar. In addition, it will feature lectures by a remarkable group of thinkers and practitioners, including Marcia McNally (Associate Adjunct Professor in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, UC Berkeley), Setha Low (Professor of Environmental Psychology at City University of New York), Anne Whitson Spirn (Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, MIT), and Frances Moore Lappé (democracy advocate, world food and hunger expert, author of Diet for a Small Planet, and director of the Small Planet Institute). The series will conclude with a panel discussion in which Fellows will examine issues raised in the lectures and throughout the semeter.

After each lecture and the panel discussion, Project Fellows will join Professors Hester and Leone and the visiting scholars at the Kahn Institute for a more extended discussion of the issues raised in the presentations.

The Neilson-Kahn Seminar will draw upon themes developed by Professor Hester in his 2006 book, Design for Ecological Democracy. In that volume, he explores emerging principles of urban design that allow people to forge connections with their fellow citizens and with the natural environment. Seminar participants will discuss and debate how the responsible freedom generated by a dynamic combination of ecology and democracy can allow for the implementation of these new design principles, which are based on three fundamental elements identified by Professor Hester: enabling form, resilient form, and impelling design. The colloquium will discuss how applying these principles can make it possible to develop genuine urban communities that are adaptable to their surrounding ecologies and that have the potential to provide safe, comfortable, and enriching environments for residents. Professor Hester and the other speakers will present examples and case studies from actual projects in which they have successfully applied these principles throughout the U.S. and overseas.

The public lectures and the panel discussion that are part of the Neilson-Kahn Seminar will all take place in Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m. on the dates indicated below. After each event, colloquium Fellows will meet for dinner at the Kahn Institute at 6:30 p.m. Dinner will be immediately followed by the colloquium meeting, which will start at approximately 7:30 p.m.


February 1:

Randolph Hester: (Neilson Professor Lecture) Design for Ecological Democracy

Randolph Hester

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In this lecture, Randolph Hester, the 2009-2010 William Allan Neilson Professor and Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning and Urban Design at the University of California-Berkeley, will discuss sacredness, nature, community, power and creative confrontation, recombinant and reciprocal geometries, and living smaller. He will outline the principle ideas underlying his 2006 book Design for Ecological Democracy, describing two competing approaches to urban landscape design during the modern era, one based in ecological science, the other in social factors and justice. He will show how the two might be combined to create more sustainable landscapes, and will introduce a design proposition using enabling, resilient and impelling forms and discuss how they can be applied to community and city design.


February 15:

Randolph Hester: (Neilson Professor Lecture) Geometry and Activist Ecology

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Randolph Hester will build on the previously introduced idea of recombinant and reciprocal geometries, using the story of efforts to save the black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor) from extinction to demonstrate how the creation of detailed geometries can clarify and sometimes resolve conflicts over land use as “territory” from the regional to the intimate scale. He will present an overview of the habitat needs of the endangered species and competing science; the spatial requirements of dominant and conflicting land uses in this case in Taiwan and Korea; the land use geometries of alternative economies including fishing, value-added products, ecotourism and cultural tourism; the geometries of the daily life patterns of local residents; and present a means of resolution through accurate and creative synthesis of the geometries. Along the way, ecological activism at both the grassroots and international levels will unfold as genuine green and green washing.


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March 1:

Marcia McNally: From Flyway to Shophouse: Neighborhood Landscapes in the Glocal World

Marcia McNally

Does the neighborhood landscape matter? Whether as a unit of analysis for action research, a site for professional practice, a common denominator in cross-cultural comparisons, or the landscape of our daily lives, the answer is a resounding, “You bet.” Marcia McNally, Associate Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, will present four frames of the same view from research sites in Taipei, Taiwan; Kyoto, Japan; and Los Angeles and Berkeley, California that underscore the importance of the neighborhood in our glocal (simultaneously global and local) lives.

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March 22:

Setha Low: Rethinking Urban Parks, Social Justice, and Cultural Diversity

Setha Low

Urban public spaces are where race, class, gender, age, sexual preference, ethnicity, and ability differences are experienced and negotiated in a safe forum for political action, communication, and democratic practice. Those spaces offer an empirical means for thinking about cultural diversity in the creation of a more just city. In this lecture, Setha Low, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Geography, Women's Studies, and Anthropology at City University of New York, examines the difficulties in defining and studying what constitutes an equitable distribution of public space, how those issues necessitate employing a broader framework of justice to utilize the lessons learned from planning and design practice, and how to encourage the use of public spaces for democratic practices. She argues that three dimensions of justice—distributive, procedural, and interactional—are essential to address the multiple kinds of perceived injustice.

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April 5:

Randolph Hester: (Neilson Professor Lecture) Sex, Lies, and Real Estate

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Many planners believe that sustainable American cities must be somewhat denser, and that exurban development must be controlled to allow space for ecosystems to function to provide food, water, clean air and other resources within the bioregion. Yet density and limited extent are seldom successfully addressed in city making. In this lecture, Randolph Hester explains why through an exploration of the creation of a Big Wild Greenbelt around Los Angeles, a case where extent is being limited. He will describe the primary conflicts that arose during this effort, the techniques that worked and did not work as it progressed, and the lessons learned from it.

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April 12:

Anne Whiston Spirn: To See Is the Root of Idea

Anne Whitson Sprin

The Greek verb to see is the linguistic root of idea, the eye a door to understanding, to forming and testing ideas. To photograph mindfully is to see and think, to open a door between what can be seen directly and what is hidden and can only be imagined. Photography is to seeing what poetry is to writing: a concentrated way of thinking, a condensed telling, a disciplined practice that may produce insight. Photography has been a medium of inquiry from its inception; for many, as it was for Eudora Welty, the camera is "a hand-held auxiliary of wanting-to-know." The lecture is drawn from the manuscript from Spirn's book, The Eye Is a Door: Photography and the Art of Visual Thinking, now nearing completion.


April 19:

Frances Moore Lappé: Liberation Ecology: Shedding Disempowering Ideas to Create the World We Want

Frances Moore Lappe

Polar ice is melting even faster than scientists had predicted only a few years ago, and each year we’re losing forest that covers an area as big as Greece. In only a few years, the number of hungry people worldwide has grown by a fifth, which means that hunger now harms more than a billion of us. In this lecture, social change and democracy activist and founder of the Small Planet Institute Frances Moore Lappé explains how we can make a planet-wide turn toward life if we break free of a mental map—a set of reigning but misleading ideas—that disempower us, taking us down, down, down and reinforcing feelings of despair. She will discuss why nothing is more important than examining these disempowering ideas and replacing them with evidence-based ways of seeing that energize us to engage.

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April 26

Panel Discussion: Issues in Ecological Democracy

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PDF of PowerPoint slides for the Panel Discussion

Faculty participants in the Neilson-Kahn Seminar will join Randolph Hester and Marcia McNally for an open discussion of the key issues raised during the seminar and the 13-week LSS 100 course Issues in Landscape Studies.



  • Ann Leone, French Studies, Landscape Studies, ORGANIZING FELLOW
  • Randolph Hester, William Allan Neilson Professor, 2009-2010
  • Jack Ahern, Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning (UMass, Amherst)
  • Reid Bertone-Johnson, Landscape Studies
  • John Burk, Biological Sciences
  • Leslie King, Sociology & Environmental Science & Policy
  • Michael Marcotrigiano, Director, Botanical Gardens
  • Marcia McNally, Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning (UC, Berkeley)
  • James Middlebrook, Art
  • Dano Weisbord, Director, Environmental Sustainability
  • Student auditor: Kate Cholaksi '10
  • Student auditor: Anna Cressotti '10
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