Danika Cooper, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
You’re on research leave! What’s been the focus of your time away?
This semester, I’m a Mellon Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. Although because of the public health crisis, the fellowship is now remote. As part of the fellowship, I’m working on a research project called “Strategic Invisibility,” which explores how desert landscapes have been exploited by governments and institutions for economic gain and social control. Specifically, I’m looking at how the United States’ has dispossessed Indigenous communities, tribes, and nations of their lands in order to promote urban growth and agro-industrial productivity.
What do you do at the CED? What’s been your favorite class to teach? Why?
I’m an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning where I spend my time teaching in our Master of Landscape Architecture program. My favorite class to teach is my LA 202: Designing the Desert course which allows graduate students to explore speculative futures for the American West in the face of the climate crisis and growing urgency for reimagined cities that meaningfully address racial, economic, and environmental justice.
Your recent publications have centered on water scarcity as well as how bodies of water can have impacts far beyond their scientific or geological domains. What keeps you coming back to this topic?
There is urgency in thinking more broadly about the environment, and our role within it. Currently our governmental policies and institutional norms treat the environment as a commodity to be used and exploited for economic, social, and political agendas. As a result, there is a growing tension between how the environment is managed and its long-term health. My research positions the environment as an embodied phenomenon with its conditions and health an extension of our bodies; through this positioning, my hope is to reframe environmental health as directly pertinent and essential to human health.
What’s something you struggle with as an educator, landscape architect? What issues do you face in research and scholarship?
One of the things I love about being a landscape architect is that the discipline operates at the intersection of many bodies of knowledge. In order to design with the environment, a landscape architect must be able to draw on research from the natural sciences (ecology, horticulture, hydrology, geology, environmental/resource management, etc) and integrate it with ideas about culture and aesthetics. It is this interdisciplinary approach to the environment that is extremely challenging, both in practicing and in teaching landscape architecture. It is a challenge to reduce complexity into manageable component parts while at the same time, not over-simplifying environmental problems, conditions, and questions.