Iryna Dronova, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
What draws you to the field of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning?
The opportunity to reconcile human landscape priorities with the needs of natural systems that sustain us and that are vulnerable to our landscape decisions. The opportunity to end the false dichotomy of "humans versus nature" and to embrace nature as an integral part of humanity and global human landscape. Can landscapes be both functional and beautiful? Sustainable and equitable? Resilient and dynamic? Our field offers a unique opportunity for strong, unprecedented collaborations between landscape science and practice to address these needs in the face of global climate change and exacerbating social and environmental injustice.
You’re a Berkeley alumna! How has it been being both a student and educator (in many departments!)?
It has been a fantastic experience in both roles. UC Berkeley’s vibrant culture reflects it's commitment to the core values that had brought me to the landscape disciplines in the first place. As a Cal student, I was fascinated by the incredible intellectual richness of our community and generous, collegial culture fostered by professors, students and staff. Here, I felt supported and encouraged to dare, to think out of the box and challenge the conventional paradigms towards innovative problem solving. As a faculty, teacher and mentor I am trying to facilitate a similar mindset among the students and to inspire them to think big and work towards building new skills for achieving their goals. The students in our College are particularly dedicated to the ideas of environmental stewardship and socio-environmental justice in landscape design, which has been a huge motivation in my pedagogy, research and mentorship.
What is your favorite publication or project that you’ve been a part of?
I have two such different projects at the moment - one directly led by me and one in collaboration with a large international group of incredible scholars. The first one is a NASA-funded project applying remote sensing images and new analysis methods to monitor biological diversity in vulnerable, complex yet critically important wetland ecosystems, where traditional field observations can be extremely limited. This study is aiming to enable new cost-effective monitoring strategies that could be applied from local to broader regional scales and assist in restoration and conservation efforts. The second project is a large international collaboration among researchers from several U.S.A and Latin American Universities focusing on urban public health in the Latin American region - Salud Urbana en América Latina (SALURBAL). I am part of the UC Berkeley team led by CED Professor Daniel Rodriguez, and our efforts are centered on studying landscape properties of the built environment and green space to support novel, integrative landscape-level public health studies.
What’s something you’ve recently been inspired by?
I have been highly inspired by the University of California’s Carbon Neutrality initiative which puts our universities at the frontier of novel leadership for addressing environmental crisis and social injustices exacerbated by climate change. This timely strategy also opens outstanding opportunities for innovation in sustainable environmental design, renewable and efficient energy systems, natural climate solutions and technological breakthroughs that will be critical for sustainable governance and planning and seeking pathways towards climate justice for all. Seeing this huge step gives me hope that other universities and institutions will follow this path and help stimulate broader public engagement in the sustainability discourse and action.
What have been your latest research efforts? What are your hopes for them or their impact? Why do you think this research is timely?
I am especially interested in the emerging hazards of urban heat triggered by the ways we build and manage cities. Urban warming hazards may continue even if we are able to slow or halt the global climate change because they often stem from the structure and configuration of the built environment, high concentrations of anthropogenic energy sources and loss of cooling pathways from the displaced natural systems. While this issue is a major threat to public health and a contributor to urban socio-environmental injustice, for our disciplines it also presents an important call and opportunity for urban design innovation.
How can students be involved with your work?
I work with both graduate and undergraduate students in different programs on our campus. The students are welcome to contact me about potential advising or membership on their thesis committees where I can contribute expertise from landscape and ecosystem ecology, remote sensing, geographic information science and other areas relevant to my work. I also provide opportunities for research mentoring via our campus URAP program (Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program) and, when available, funded research assistantship positions for specific projects. More generally, the students are welcome to send me an email and set up an opportunity to talk and discuss the ideas and project interests!
What is your advice to students looking to study landscape architecture as well as environmental design?
Landscape architecture and environmental design is an incredibly important, fascinating and also incredibly complex field. Entering this area becomes more than a profession - it becomes a vocation, a mindset, a lifestyle. It is therefore important to be open to embrace different ideas and skills and to be patient in letting these skills grow and develop through your ongoing journey. One of the remarkable aspects of our College is that in addition to building the critical professional and technical skills, we also emphasize the importance of literacy in environmental and social aspects of this discipline, which are integral to landscape leadership and stewardship of the future.