Edge of Paradise: Landscape Strategies for Living with Fire

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Project Team

Authors: Jonah Susskind, Alison Ecker, Kapp Singer, Sergio Lima

Firm: SWA Group

Project Description

Over the past 50 years, the American West has experienced a dramatic increase in catastrophic wildfires. Experts warn that due to climate change, these fires will only become more destructive and costly in

the coming decades. In California, which has emerged as the epicenter of today’s wildfire crisis, the problem is compounded by an ongoing development boom along the state’s outermost metropolitan peripheries, where wildfire risk is highest.

This project identifies strategies for mitigating wildfire risk within and around the Town of Paradise, California, which was destroyed by fire in 2018. With Guidance from community leaders, the project envisions a series of wildfire buffering schemes designed to leverage the co-benefits of wildland fuels reduction, high-value agricultural production, renewable energy, and expanded recreational programming.

Drawing heavily from landscape ecology and indigenous principles of prescribed fire management, the project identifies a contiguous, 90,000 acre regional network of patches and corridors that can be leveraged as effective spatial drivers for implementing context-specific burn strategies.

Situated within the socio-political context of the Green New Deal, this work explores equitable financing schemes for rebuilding in post-disaster communities, and draws connections between rural energy infrastructure and regional job growth.

This project, which builds on recent studies by the Conservation Biology Institute and the Nature Conservancy, continues SWA’s research and design engagement with wildfire-prone landscapes in California.


Additional Links

Project on JSTOR

Studio Description

As an international landscape architecture and urban design firm with four offices in California, SWA is using the Green New Deal Superstudio as an opportunity to spotlight two distinct California communities that have been (and will continue to be) heavily impacted by the twin contexts of climate change and urbanization. From Oakland to the Sierra foothills, the two projects identify critical landscape-based strategies for realizing the aspirations of the Green New Deal within the contexts of both urban and rural communities. From the protection and stewardship of urban soils as an instrument for redefining community-based programming, to the mitigation of future risk in the aftermath of a deadly wildfire, these projects both point toward implementable strategies for urban planning and design. Both projects insist upon leveraging the power of local advocacy groups to usher in new approaches to infrastructure and environmental justice. California is the most populous state in the US, and the effects of climate change will be felt here by a vast array of community types. This fact compels us to challenge normative approaches to urban development, design, and governance, which have historically operated well outside of the climate imperative we now face. The two projects undertaken by California-based SWA offices offer creative and provocative approaches that center the Green New Deal’s core goals of jobs, justice, and decarbonization. These projects continue SWA’s research and design engagement with frontline California’s communities.