I connected with Landscape Architecture Professors Jessica Henson and Mary Pat McGuire, co-chairs for the symposium, to learn more about it.
Why a Symposium on Fresh Water?
Jessica: Fresh water is a critical source of life for everyone, and yet it is underexplored by the design professions. There’s a lot of activity around coastal regions, especially with recent tropical storms and sea-level rise, but not nearly as much focus on inland water resources.
Mary Pat: A major driver for starting up this conference was the recent announcements of environmental deregulation from the Trump administration, on top of the already immense pressures that are well documented on our water systems. The Great Lakes and our major inland river systems, their landscapes, and communities are at immense risk.
Jessica: Illinois is the perfect place to study fresh water. We’re adjacent to the Great Lakes system and part of the Mississippi watershed, the largest fresh water systems on the planet. The watersheds on this continent have shared histories. What is happening in Illinois is happening elsewhere.
Who Should Attend?
Mary Pat: Attendees should include anyone whose work involves fresh water and who is seeking pathways for addressing complex water-based issues at large scales.
Jessica: We hope to get a multidisciplinary audience because these issues require collaboration across disciplines. We want to start some conversations and get everyone thinking in parallel about these issues. Students should attend, too!
What Can Attendees Expect to Learn?
Mary Pat: We definitely won’t address every fresh water issue in the symposium, but I think the range of design methods and topics will inspire new thinking. Many of the presentations will address the legacy of water engineering, which is unprecedented around the world, especially for rivers. We have to start thinking differently. We believe design will lead to new visions for putting currently separate systems back together.
Jessica: We’ll have lots of workshops and presentations on topics such as water infrastructure and human/psychological relationships to water. At the end of the symposium, the moderators of the different sessions will come together for a discussion. I’m expecting a really rich conversation. There will also be receptions and opportunities to network and meet other people who are interested in similar topics.
Who Will We Be Hearing From?
Mary Pat: We have some very important scholars giving the keynote talks and moderating panels: Nina-Marie Lister is a critical ecologist and planner. Lowell Duckert is a leading environmental writer with a focus on water. We also have three amazing moderators: Jane Wolff, Billy Fleming, and Elen Deming, who will lead themed sessions where ambitious design thinkers (including Jessica and myself) will present their water research for discussion.
What Are Your Goals for the Symposium?
Jessica: We are hoping to have conversations that unite people who are working on similar issues. There hasn’t been a lot of knowledge sharing, and we need to come together to think about what these watersheds might look like in the future.
Mary Pat: The big goals are to build a contingent of water design researchers in the region and to find new collaborations for work going forward. Our aim is to bring good solid design research out into the open—to debate the ideas and to uncover ways to take these ideas to policy makers and decision makers. Aside from that, the goal is good, old-fashioned education and inspiration.