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How One Landscape Architect Brings the Idea of Placekeeping into His Work

Award-winning landscape architect Terence Radford shares his approach to transforming public spaces 

A panoramic shot of Elginburg PS redesigned play space.

Published on June 15, 2021

For years, Evergreen has worked with school boards across Canada to transform their school grounds into greener, climate-ready community spaces

The grounds are inspired by the natural world, and use elements like trees, rocks and shade to create a landscape for children to learn and explore.  

We work closely with our design consultants on each project, who use their expertise to guide the planning and design process. One of those consultants is Terence Radford, an award-winning Métis landscape architect, who has worked with Evergreen on many innovative school ground designs. 

Terence works with communities, clients and consultants to create meaningful, sustainable places. We sat down with him to discuss how he approaches school ground design, the importance of designing with children, and how the concept of placekeeping informs his work.  

How would you define placekeeping? 

I define placekeeping as the long-term management and care of a place, community or residence, by the people who inhabit it. 

Can you talk about what it means to have a “duty of care” for our environment? 

That relates to my views and positions on the natural world. The water, the Earth — they have rights of their own to exist and be as they are. We have a responsibility to them, and a duty of care towards that. 

There is a reciprocity that is demanded of our relationship with the natural world — if we’re going to harvest and take from it, then we have to give something in return. 

How does placekeeping and a duty of care inform your work? 

I try to speak with a community I’m working with to understand how they’re using places, what’s important to them and what their capacity to maintain that place is.  

Far too often we design beautiful new spaces that communities love, but then we run into capacity issues with their care and upkeep.  

If you create a woodland, that is a major shock for most communities or organizations. But to build a forest over 30 years, one tree at a time, gives them time to learn how to manage and care for the place. 

In my own design, I try to minimize damage as much as possible. If there are trees on site, we take every possible step to ensure we’re protecting them.  

I also try to use native plants as much as possible, to ensure I’m not contributing to the loss of these plants. 

 

Children playing on a redeisgned school ground
Children enjoying the Elginburg & District Public School school ground design, which Terence worked on.

 

In many of your projects — including schools and parks — you consult with children who will use the space. Why is this an important part of the design process? 

As an adult, and as someone who has recently turned 40, I am not always connected with my inner child. 

Children are not a part of a community we typically hear from, but their perspectives are incredibly important when it comes to design. They are key users and stakeholders of public spaces. 

When you ask a child who their community is, they’ll include plants, squirrels, birds and butterflies as part of their community, and as members who should be considered when making changes to their spaces. 

Can consulting with children help them form a connection to the natural world? 

Children connect with nature far more easily than adults do.  

As an Indigenous practioner, I have a certain respect for the natural world. If I talk about a tree as a living being, it can be very difficult for some adults to understand. 

Children are far more open to it. If we give them a plant to take care of, it has incredible importance to them. They have a way of caring and building a relationship with nature. 

If we engage with them at a young age, it can become embedded in their learning process. We give them a way to articulate these ideas, and hold onto them as they get older, that can build them into stewards as they progress through the school system. 

 

St.Bernard's Catholic School school ground design, which Terence won a Landscape Ontario award for this year.

 

What is one of your favourite projects you were able to work on with Evergreen? 

We did a project for St. Anne’s Catholic Public School in Peterborough, Ontario, in partnership with Green Up, where we looked at stormwater management and naturalized garden space on the school grounds.  

They had a problem with standing water, and ice that would build up in the winter. We designed the school ground to manage that water, and we created a garden of native plants. 

We were able to take the students through an engagement exercise, where we learned which animals were native to the area, and what native plants they ate. Then when we made the garden space, it had native plants that would attract bats, monarch butterflies, the duskywing moth and humming bird.

How would you like to see placekeeping incorporated into the field of landscape architecture? 

I would say, more time to engage with communities and organizations, to listen and speak with everyone our projects impact, would be key. 

Often we are limited to a few open houses, with designs that are relatively completed. At that point, we’re looking for feedback for minor revisions and changes. 

Whenever possible, it’s ideal to be able to do participatory design work with the community itself. 

A lot of Evergreen projects demonstrate that when you have the time, you can bring placekeeping into this work.