COMMUNITY SERVICE HONOR AWARD
Safe Passage Entry Garden
Amanda Bell, Student ASLA, Paul Chasan, Student ASLA, Terri Chiao, Student ASLA, Arielle Farina Clark, Student ASLA, Hilary Clark, Student ASLA, Jocelyn L. Freilinger, Student ASLA, Ryan Ihm, Student ASLA, Jeff Kurtz, Student ASLA, Vanessa Lee, Student ASLA, David Marshall, Student ASLA, Noriko Marshall, Student ASLA, Justin Martin, Student ASLA, Michael Michalek, Student ASLA, Nicole Mikesh, Student ASLA, and Elizabeth Umbanhowar, Student ASLA
of Washington, Seattle, WA
Faculty Advisor: Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA
Children are often the silent victims of poverty.
To address this tragedy, we worked with the NGO Safe
Passage in the poorest neighborhood of Guatemala City.
Using a collaborative, community-based process, we designed
and built a series of healing garden spaces to serve
children and families who survive by picking trash in
the adjacent landfill. This project exemplifies the
service ethic of landscape architecture and teaches
skills to create environments that foster positive social
and ecological change.
In the summer of 2006, fifteen students traveled to Guatemala City to participate in an international service learning project as part of the University of Washington Landscape Architecture Design/Build Program.
The team comprised primarily students
in landscape architecture, as well as students in urban
planning and architecture from four U.S. universities.
Under the guidance of our professor and two teaching
assistants, we spent six weeks designing and constructing
three gardens, a plaza, shade arbor and seat walls for
the main entry area to a new park and education site
managed by the NGO Safe Passage for its client community.
Our project serves as a therapeutic garden and a gateway
to the park, and spatially links the two buildings on
the site that house early childhood intervention and
The Entry Garden represents the first
phase of a four-phase Master Plan for the site. An on-going
service learning partnership between Safe Passage and
our design/build program ensures that students will
return in subsequent years to complete the design and
construction of additional phases.
Client and Community Served
Safe Passage was founded in 1999 to provide
a stable and caring environment in which to educate,
nurture, and assist the poorest and most vulnerable
children of families working in the Guatemala City garbage
dump. The project site, located adjacent to the dump,
is built on capped landfill. It is located in the heart
of a community of squatters and poor residents who survive
by picking through the incoming garbage from the nation’s
capital, salvaging everything from food to materials
that can be sold to recyclers. The few “public”
open spaces that exist in this densely populated community
are dangerous and unhealthy, sites of frequent and largely
un-policed drug and gang activity, as well as copious
medical, human and other waste.
Development and use rights for our project
site were donated to Safe Passage, under whose management
the land will serve as a refuge and respite for the
community’s children and their families. The park
will address a number of critical needs in terms of
mental and physical health and development, and provide
a safe and healthy environment for exploration, learning,
and nature interactions. Many of the parents are of
indigenous ancestry and were displaced from their rural
homelands during Guatemala’s civil war. The park
offers them the opportunity to experience and reconnect
with the natural processes that were once a part of
their daily lives, and inspire a sense of hope for their
future and that of their children.
Landscape Design Principles
The Safe Passage Entry Garden demonstrates
a number of sound landscape design principles which
exemplify the strengths and contributions of our profession.
To better understand their unique needs we conducted
a community meeting with teachers and administrators
from Safe Passage as well as with mothers and children
who are clients of the organization. As a result of
this process we identified common needs and desires
for this space. The resulting responsive design included
shaded resting areas, a place for children to explore
and experience a sense of independence, and a larger
open gathering area for socializing and events.
This project also demonstrates how landscape
design can contribute to opportunities for learning,
personal growth, and contact with nature in urban environments.
Our pro bono design and construction work, and our program’s
commitment to continued partnership with Safe Passage
represent a strong model of service learning. This project
also expresses a commitment to using landscape architecture
to create better and healthier living environments,
and in so doing helping to break the cycle of poverty.
The Safe Passage Entry Garden benefits the
community in a number of ways. Foremost among these,
it provides a place to relax, gather, socialize, play,
and explore in a safe and clean outdoor environment,
an amenity which is desperately lacking in the community.
Our design incorporates a large, open area in the main
plaza, transitional stairs and paths leading to a grass
playfield, as well as more intimate spaces under the
shade arbor and the children’s sensory garden
The dense, diverse vegetation and inward
focus of the various spaces create a remarkable place
in the community and allow visitors respite and relief
from the troubles of the surrounding streets and neighborhood
– a desire explicitly voiced by participants in
our community meetings. By creating a garden that demonstrates
a professional level of quality and integrity in design
and construction, we also sought to counter the sense
among the community that they have been abandoned or
even kept in poverty by those who are more fortunate
and politically powerful.
The project possesses strong educational
potential for the various visitors and users of the
site. The vegetation in the surrounding neighborhood
is sparse and relatively limited in diversity. Our plan
included a thoughtful palette of native, agricultural
and sensory tropical plants. Concurrent with their installation
we witnessed the immediate appearance of hummingbirds,
butterflies, and other wildlife. Within two weeks a
songbird nested in one of the small shrubs. The significant
benefits these opportunities offer the children in terms
of learning about nature firsthand were immediately
apparent. Our planning included the vocational opportunities
the site would offer to learn about the maintenance
and propagation of plants. We also had the opportunity
to teach a number of local youth about our design and
construction work during the project, some of whom assisted
us at times as part of a special apprentice training
program through Safe Passage.
Safe Passage is a dynamic and respected
organization that draws hundreds of volunteers each
year from around the world. These volunteers tour and
work in the Safe Passage facilities (even during our
work some volunteers assisted with construction), giving
our project and the profession a high degree of visibility.
We believe that this project actively embodies the ecological
and social principles at the core of landscape design
and effectively reflects its strong service ethic to
a diverse international audience that regularly visits
and uses the park.