Ethics in Landscape Architecture

AVA’s ethics case studies are designed to help readers be aware of controversial issues so they can decide for themselves their own ethical beliefs, to be applied both personally and professionally. The ethics case study in our Basics Landscape Architecture books focuses on Central Park in New York.

Did you know that when the State decided to begin constructing Central Park, the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants? – ‘most of whom were poor and either African Americans or immigrants. Roughly 1600 people were evicted under the rule of “eminent domain”, which allowed the government to seize property for public purposes.’

The case study asks: Was it unethical to evict people in order to build a public park? Would this happen today? And would you have worked on this project?



There is no doubt that working with publicly owned spaces is an aspect of landscape architecture that involves interacting with issues of politics, society and ethics. Projects often reflect social attitudes of the time towards nature, communities, integration and freedom of movement. Having a clear ethical stance or code of conduct from the outset can be crucial to negotiating such conflicts with any conviction. Consulting with the public or directly involving them in the design process is one possible route to pursuing a more inclusive, diverse and ethical approach to creating public spaces – but this may incur the need for more time and money.

The case study goes on to look at how the park has been put to use, and how it is maintained. It also includes this statement from Ellen Posner, writing in The Wall Street Journal: ‘Commissioned by clients to install barrier walls and private pathways that can keep out or discourage those who are unwanted, or hired to create private commercial experiences out of what may have been public space, many become complicit in structuring the urban language of separation.’

Should landscape architects be considering these issues when they take on a client?

If you are an academic or lecturer, please register with our website to download the ethics case study as a PDF from the ‘Supplementary material’ section.

This case study is included in Basics Landscape Architecture 01: Urban Design and Basics Landscape Architecture 02: Ecological Design. Urban Design is currently included in a sale on our website.