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Randolph (Randy) Hester Jr. is a landscape architect, professor and sociologist based in Berkeley, California. His practical work and teaching has focused on applying sociology to the design of neighborhoods, cities and landscapes. Hester is a strong advocate for community participation in the development of what he calls ecological democracies and sacred landscapes – spaces that grow out of a true understanding of the needs of a local community and the potential of its resources. His approach has excited communities across the US and abroad, and inspired countless students to actively engage the social and environmental context of their work.

“[I was inspired by] Randy Hester – he is such a perfectionist, so talented, he can draw up a storm, and he was always about process.” Rodney Swink, President of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Randy Hester is professor and former chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning at the University of California at Berkeley. He is one of the founders of a research movement to apply sociology to the design of neighborhoods, cities and landscapes, and the co-director of Community Development by Design, a planning organization specializing in neighborhood design, community participation and sacred landscapes. The organization works on small town community development, large-scale open space planning and public participation in natural resource management decisions in Washington, California, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the US and abroad. He is the author of numerous books and articles about citizen participation and socially suitable planning.

Hester grew up in rural North Carolina as the son of white farmer. In his teenage years he began working against urban renewal projects that would have isolated some of the poorest local neighborhoods. At 20, he moved into what he once called a $43-a-month “shotgun house”, in the predominantly black Chavis Heights neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C, and continued engaging in community work.

He gained a BA in Landscape Architecture and BA in Sociology from North Carolina State University, and an MA in Landscape Architecture from Harvard. Afterwards, he returned to the University of North Carolina and formed the New Lands organization with students, to help poor residents remain in their homes and resist eviction. He was elected to the Raleigh City Council in 1976, using his position to allocate federal community development funds for day care, jobs and other services in Chavis Heights. His first book, Neighborhood Space, draws largely on this experience.

In 2000, Hester was appointed to the professional panel responsible for selecting the design for a Washington, D.C., monument to Martin Luther King.

Hester lives with his wife and partner Marcia McNally in a self designed urban farm/garden consisting of both outdoor and indoor rooms, emphasizing the possibility of maintaining ecologically sustainable lifestyles. He is known for his passion to collect and reuse salvaged and reprocessed materials in the landscape.

Ecological Democracy

Hester aims to make the environment and people’s well-being central to the political choices that often direct planning and design decisions, by strengthening the role of civic involvement and adaptive science-based environmental management. According to Hester’s theory of ecological democracy, design decisions should be inspired by interconnected thinking, community stewardship, voluntary inconvenience, systemic co-selfishness, and conspicuous nonconsumption. Inhabited place must have a center, a locally-derived character, a clear limited extent, and a permeable boundary via which critical resources and externalities are monitored for impacts on sustainability and justice.

Neighborhood Space
Hester defines neighborhood space as all public (and ill-defined private outdoor space) close to home which residents consider their own because of collective responsibility, familiar association, and frequent shared use. He explains that these spaces are vital for a connected community, even though they do not necessarily correspond to the political definition of a specific neighborhood or district.

Although most neighborhood spaces emerge naturally through community interaction and use of the physical terrain, they nevertheless require positive facilitation through design and management. Hester does not specify one single design for successful neighborhood space. Instead, success depends on their social suitability, meaning that communities have very particular ways of being neighborly, and specific needs and wants which should be synthesized at the beginning of every planned change to a neighborhood space. Hester emphasizes that whether or not people use a space depends more on who else is there than on the physical design. Therefore, for a neighborhood space design to be successful it needs to be the product of a genuine community development process.

According to Hester, people seeking to design sociable neighborhoods must clarify the concept of “residents’ own” spaces, and then they must decide how to delineate those spaces. The word “own” refers to a collective, symbolic community ownership and can often apply to highly contested areas. Hester points out that spaces such as trash dumps, phone booths, secret niches, ponds and transportation corridors often emerge as “owned” in community analyses. He emphasizes that we need to understand the value of those spaces for different groups in the community, and find ways of increasing this value without losing the sense of community and identity the spaces provide. He, too, describes a process by which to delineate neighborhood spaces.

Finding Fishheads
Hester notes that every community has some meaningful resources, such as a river, or trees, or transportation. Without such resources, the town would not have developed at that place. Hester explains that we must find these resources, or “fishheads”, in each community, and use them as a base upon which to discuss new ideas and community development.

Sacred Places
Sacred places are those areas, resources and elements of a town or neighborhood that the community feels strongly about and wants to maintain in any processes of change. Hester encourages citizens to describe and map a “sacred structure” of their town to use as a tool for participating in design processes. A community’s sacred places can often only be identified based on local knowledge and experience. In one of Hester’s case studies an old gravel parking lot was considered sacred because the community held festivals there twice a year. Some communities might also have strong visions about the physical character of their neighborhood and materials they would like to see used in design efforts, and these elements and materials should also be considered sacred.

Participation with a View
Hester argues that community participation in design and planning is paramount. It brings to the fore the social, economic, and ecological issues at stake, as well as the dreams and hopes embodied in the spaces to be redesigned. Hester describes a variety of low cost and effective tools for community participation. He emphasizes, however, that participation must be facilitated by “a view” of the desired future on the part of city officials, designers and planners. He warns that participation for its own sake can lead to a gridlock where nothing can be agreed upon, or resulting plans run against social and economic goals.

“Two irrepressible forces underlie my work: the human desire for participatory democracy and ecological limits. There are many more democracies in the world today and resource limits are more critical, complex, and misunderstood. More than any other factors, democracy and limits shape public landscape design.”

Living Landscape: Reading Cultural Landscape Experiences, with S. Chang, S. Wang (Eds.), Taipei: Taiwan United Force Culture Enterprise Co. Ltd, 1999.

A Theory for Building Community, with S. Chang, Taipei: Yungliou Press, 1999.

Democratic Design in the Pacific Rim, with C. Kweskin (Eds.), Mendocino, California: Ridge Times Press, 1999.

Techniques for Machizukuri, with M. Dohi, Gendaikikakushitsu Press, 1997.

The Meaning of Gardens, with M. Fancis (Eds.), Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1990.

Community Design Primer, Mendocino, California: Ridge Times Press, 1990.

Community Goal Setting, with F.J. Smith, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross Inc., 1982.

Planning Neighborhood Space with People, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1982.

Neighborhood Space, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross Inc., 1975.

“A continuing dialogue on local wisdom in participatory design,” The Third Annual Participatory Community Design Conference, Taiwan, May, 2001.

“What makes participation exemplary?”, Places, 14(1), 2001.

“Democratic Design in the Pacific Rim,” Ridge Times Press, 1999.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sustainable Happiness,” Places, 9(3), 1995.

“Portraits of Lyndon Haleiwa,” Places, 8(2): 82-93.

“Place Debate: Yosemite National Park, Introduction,” Places, 6(3): 18-20.

“Social Values in Open Space Design,” Places, 6(1): 68-77.

“Process Can Be Style,” Landscape Architecture, May/June 1983, p. 52.

“Subconscious Landscapes of the Heart,” Places, 2(3), 1982.

Community Planning in Manteo, North Carolina 7, available through The Alliance for Sustainable Communities of Annapolis, Maryland, 18 minutes long.

Articles about Hester
Calkins, Meg, “Closing the Loop Part II: Designing with, specifying, and using salvaged and reprocessed materials in the landscape,” Landscape Architecture, December 2002.

Owens-Viani, Lisa, “Walkin’ the Talk: A landscape architect and a planner create an urban garden that embodies their interest in a more sustainable lifestyle,” Landscape Architecture, July 2002.

Case study of a community that worked with Hester

North Carolina Alumni profile which Hester wrote on his work and ideas

Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning
University of California at Berkeley
202 Wurster Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-2000