...landscape architects. TSR Group, which has been plowing through zoning obstacles to manage development of 3,000 acres of planned farm towns, calls it “agriburbia.”

“We believe we will make the suburbs useful in their own right, not just for commuting,” says Quint Redmond, CEO of Golden, Colo.-based TSR.

Landscape architects are not the only ones tooting their horns. “We recognize we cannot make our sewer and water pipes big enough” to handle loads, says Howard Neukrug, director of Philadelphia’s office of watersheds. “For water issues, it is critical to have the landscape architect involved early in the process. How you site a building—even your first imagination— will help determine how sustainable a building will be,” says Neukrug.

Taking Cover

Philadelphia, which defines green infrastructure as anything that captures the first inch of rainwater, has new street-greening standards. The goal is to remove 50% of impervious cover in 20 years. The inspiration for the program came in 2000 from a landscape architecture professor, Anne Spirn, now at MIT, who was at the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. Spirn had ideas for the area’s renewal. “We put her in a van with civil engineers, went to a site, and she gave us a vision,” says Neukrug.

Planners also support the landscape architects’ comeback. They bring “very valuable skills to the team,” says Joe MacDonald, a senior associate with the American Planning Association.

Even engineers are warming to the idea of the landscape architect. Neukrug says it is “fun” to watch the marriage of the professions. “They are both so creative in different ways,” he says, adding that it may be a forced marriage at first, but resentment decreases as parties work together. Engineers have “secretly” always wanted to handle things differently, says Neukrug, an engineer.

Landscape architects are getting assertive. A decade ago, “we would accept the engineer’s solution,” says Jeff Zimmermann, a principal in the Denver office of Design Workshop Inc., which designed the sustainable Glacier Club golf course, in Durango, Colo. “Today, we are more critical, knowing there are ways to step more lightly on the land,” he adds.

Kevin Shanley, CEO of landscape architect-planner SWA Group, wants the landscape architect to lead the team, not just be on it. Low-impact development involves living things that landscape architects, not engineers, are trained to consider, says Shanley, in SWA’s Houston office. Landscape architects need to get involved politically to push landscape infrastructure, he says.

One example is Houston’s Buffalo Bayou project, a public-private partnership downtown, planned and designed by SWA. The shores of the derelict stormwater channel are becoming 850 acres of public green space and trails. Fund-raising and initial planning for the second phase is starting. The first 3,000 lineal ft, called Sabine-to-Bagby, was completed in 2002 for $15 million. During last year’s flooding caused by Hurricane Ike, the area performed better than expected, says SWA. There was minimal damage, and the park was back in service in a couple of days. Properly built, storm channels can be parks most of the year, says SWA.

The firm also is involved with reforesting highway corridors to sequester carbon, improve runoff, build habitat and look good. “Infrastructure needs to provide multiple benefits,” says Shanley.

Depending on the project’s details, a sustainable landscape can cost anywhere from $25 to $50 per sq ft on ground to $200 per sq ft on structure. Landscape architects charge from $70 to $120 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the project’s cost.

How did society get into this fix of fractured infrastructure? Sources say the big culprits are development and very strict interpretation of Euclidian zoning, which rigidly segregates land uses. “We have been isolating land uses in...