January 6, 2022

Landscape Architecture Faculty Receive Grant for Campus Sustainability Project

Knowlton Landscape's Jake Boswell, Katherine Jenkins, and Parker Sutton received a $50,000 grant from OSEP for their Sustainable Ohio Urban Landscape Lab (SOULL) project

A team of Knowlton School and School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) faculty have received a $50,000 grant from Ohio State Energy Partners (OSEP) for their Sustainable Ohio Urban Landscape Lab (SOULL) project. That project studies urban soil remediation and restoration ecology. Using the Ohio State main campus as a living laboratory, SOULL will seek to improve the ecosystem services performed by small urban parcels by designing and testing new planting and management regimes.

Associate Professor and Project Lead Jacob Boswell, Assistant Professor Katherine Jenkins, and Assistant Professor of Practice Parker Sutton from the Knowlton School Landscape Architecture Section will collaborate with SENR's Nicholas Basta (professor of soil and environmental science) and Matt Davies (assistant professor in soil and plant community restoration).

The collaboration between the Knowlton School and SENR will bring together the disciplines’ shared expertise in understanding and improving anthropogenic landscapes for the purpose of ecological function and beauty. The Knowlton team will pair their experience in the design, construction, and management of urban landscapes with the expertise of their SENR cohorts in modeling, testing and validating the effectiveness of landscape interventions on ecological networks.

“Ohio State’s main campus is an urban environment where small, highly controlled parcels of open ground, nested between streets, sidewalks, and buildings, are subject to significant anthropogenic disturbances: mowing, trampling, road salt, pesticides, etc,” said Sutton. “These small, divided monocultures are not thought to hold much ecological value. SOULL aims to demonstrate that such interstitial and overlooked urban greenspaces can be ecologically resilient and provide critical ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, habitat for pollinators, and storm-water buffering.” Sutton adds that these spaces will also educate the Ohio State community on the benefits of alternative maintenance regimes to our mental health as well as to local ecologies.

The SOULL project builds from the foundation established by the 2018 University Panel on Ecosystem Services Report, which calls for the utilization of campus landscapes as an explicit part of the university’s core missions: teaching, research, and discovery. The OSEP grant will be used by the SOULL team to establish key benchmarks for existing campus landscapes and to construct and monitor three initial small test sites on central campus to be identified and designed in conjunction with Facilities and Operations Landscape Services division.

“At one scale, the SOULL project critiques the structures and practices that result in the expansion of ‘lawn’ as a dominant cultural surface while simultaneously trying to alter the systems—cost, maintenance, labor—that keep perpetuating it,” commented Boswell. “The hope is to forward new practices and a new aesthetic for how we might treat unprogrammed or lightly programmed urban spaces.”