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Published in “Projective Ecologies”, 2014.

[1] James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, eds., Ecological Design and Planning (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997). Corner was among the first to speak of the potential agency of ecology for design thinking and practices. This essay, in a sense, represents the development of this trajectory in Corner’s research and teachings at the University of Pennsylvania throughout the 1990s, when Chris Reed was his student and research assistant there. In 1999, Corner began to embed these ideas into his emerging design practice, explicitly for the first time in the Downsview Park Design Competition in Toronto, on which he collaborated with Nina-Marie Lister. Corner’s embrace of indeterminacy, flux, and emergence of ecological processes within design practice have their roots in this work and the collaborations that resulted from it.

[2] Frank B. Golley, A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology: More Than the Sum of the Parts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), citing Arthur Tansley (1935).

[3] See N-M. Lister, “Biodiversity: Bridging Science and Values,” in D. Waltner-Toews, J.J. Kay, and N-M. Lister (eds.) The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), and N-M. Lister, “A Systems Approach to Biodiversity Conservation Planning,” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 49 (2/3), 1998: 123–155.

[4] See, for example, one of the earliest of its kind, the Hubbard-Brooks Study by F. H. Bormann and G.E. Likens, Patterns and Process in a Forested Ecosystem (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1979).

[5] C.S. Holling, “Cross-Scale Morphology, Geometry and Dynamics of Ecosystems,” Ecological Monographs 62(4), 1992: 447–502. See also C. S. Holling, “The Resilience of Terrestrial Ecosystems: Local Surprise and Global Change,” in W.C. Clark and R.E. Munn, eds., Sustainable Development of the Biosphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 292–320.

[6] Dean Bavington, Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010).
[7] This paradigm shift and attendant approaches for management and design of decision-making processes within complex socio-ecological systems has been explored by Lance Gunderson, C. S. Holling, and Stephen Light, eds., in Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Regional Ecosystems (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995); described by Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling, eds., in Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002); and elaborated by Waltner-Toews, Kay, and Lister, eds., in The Ecosystem Approach. Further research and publications are noted at

[8] Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1980).

[9] Neil Evernden, The Social Creation of Nature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 120.

[10] Sanford Kwinter, “Prolegomena to a New Urbanism,” in Far from Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture (Barcelona: Actar, 2008), 187.

[11] Ibid., 191.

[12] See Ian McHarg, Design With Nature (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1967/1992).

[13] See numerous publications by Richard T.T. Forman, including Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscape and Regions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[14] Among the many essays that address this shift are Robert E. Cook, “Do Landscapes Learn? Ecology’s ‘New Paradigm’ and Design in Landscape Architecture,” Inaugural Ian L. McHarg Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, March 22, 1999, published in Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium Series in the History of Landscape Architecture 22 (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2000), and reprinted in this volume, and Nina-Marie Lister, “Sustainable Large Parks: Ecological Design or Designer Ecology?” in Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves, eds., Large Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007).

[15] Stan Allen, “Infrastructural Urbanism,” Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999), 52–53.

[16] See the full presentation of the scheme by Field Operations/Stan Allen + James Corner in Julia Czerniak, ed., CASE: Downsview Park Toronto (Munich and Cambridge, MA: Prestel and Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2001). For a discussion of the competition brief and the idea of scaffolding, see Kristina Hill’s essay “Urban Ecologies: Biodiversity and Urban Design” in the same volume.

Parallel Genealogies

The processes of which ecology and creativity speak are fundamental to the work of landscape architecture. Whether biological or imaginative, evolutionary or metaphorical, such processes are active, dynamic, and complex, each tending toward the increased differentiation, freedom, and richness of a diversely interacting whole. There is no end, no grand scheme for these agents of change, just a cumulative directionality toward further becoming.  It is in this productive and active sense that ecology and creativity speak not of fixed and rigid realities but of movement, passage, genesis, and autonomy, of propulsive life unfolding in time.

James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity” (1997) [1]
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Published in “Projective Ecologies”, 2014.

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Parallel Genealogies.” urbanNext [Online]. Available: [Accessed: March 24, 2023]

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