2021 Thesis Prize in Landscape Architecture: Gracie Villa’s “City | Forest: Reordering Plant-Human Relationships Toward Healthy Cities”

Rendering of man walking in the city with an overlay of various ecologies on either side

by Gracie Villa (MLA I '21) — Recipient of the Thesis Prize in Landscape Architecture

Based in the belief that the quality of the urban landscape directly reflects the quality of its soil, I propose to utilize processes of beneficial disturbance to reorder the vegetative and soil regimes in the city’s public realm. The outcome is a regenerative living infrastructure identified as the City Forest; a collection of trees, associated undergrowth, and soil where people live, work, and play. This topology offers an alternative to the objectified street trees that make up most of America’s urban vegetation and curates an intensive dialogue between people and forest, or city and forest, not possible under current spatial practices.  

In this case study, the City Forest redefines major corridors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an efficacious place to begin intensifying the forest. Cambridge is a leader in urban forestry but has yet to boldly confront the socioeconomic practices inhibiting a healthy future. By rejecting the hierarchies and landuse patterns inherent to our car-centric landscapes, the City Forest emphasizes solidarity with nonhuman nature and advocates against destructive forms of economic practice and ontological distinction, asserting that the natural capital that accumulates in the forest reciprocates directly with healthy lived experience in the city.