Landscape governance: the prospects for the SITES rating system


Landscape is a synthesis of the cultural and natural processes of a place. As such, landscapes provide a suitable framework for governance that promotes sustainability and resilience. Any landscape holds the possibility to both improve and regenerate the natural benefits and services of ecosystems. The Sustainable Sites Initiative was an interdisciplinary group effort which developed a rating system that advances best practices for landscape design. The system, called SITES, is grounded in the ecosystem services concept. Advantages of SITES include its credibility, replicability, and scalability. Administered by Green Business Certification Inc., SITES is being used by the cities of New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, the state of Rhode Island, and the US. General Services Administration to guide design decisions toward sustainable outcomes. These practical applications in landscape governance help inform socio-ecological practice and theory.

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I appreciate the helpful suggestions from Danielle Pieranunzi of Green Business Certification Inc. as well as those from Wei-Ning Xiang and the anonymous reviewers. I thank Elizabeth Chu Richter, Signe Nielsen, Kevin Burke, and Valdis Zusmanis for their assistance.

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Correspondence to Frederick Steiner.

Appendix: Profiles of Designers

Appendix: Profiles of Designers


Kevin Burke is the Director of Design for Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and has 38 years of experience on a plethora of institutional, roadway, college and university, residential, multi-use trail, and park projects. He implemented the requirement that all ABI projects initiated since 2018 will be SITES certified and was the organizer of ABI’s Organic Land Care Symposium.


Tess Houle, Assoc. ASLA, is a landscape designer at MRWM Landscape Architects. She has specialized in the practice of arid-adapted green stormwater infrastructure, ecological design, and educational environments. Tess advocates for green stormwater infrastructure to create more resilient communities and improve environmental health.


Signe Nielsen, RLA, FASLA, Founding Principal of MNLA has been practicing as a landscape architect and urban designer since 1978. Her body of work has transformed the quality of spaces for those who live, work, and play in the urban realm. A recipient of over 100 design awards throughout her career, Signe is also a professor at Pratt Institute and serves as president of the Public Design Commission of the City of New York. She received a Bachelor of Arts, Urban Planning from Smith College; a Bachelor of Arts, Landscape Architecture from City College of New York; and a Bachelor of Science, Construction Management from Pratt Institute.


David Richter, FAIA is the design leader at Richter Architects based in Corpus Christi, Texas. The firm is the recipient of the Texas Society of Architect’s 2011 Architecture Firm Award and is a recognized leader in design, most recently a recipient of the 2020 AIA COTE® Ten Top Award.


Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA is the co-lead designer at Richter Architects. A champion of public outreach, she created and co-produced The Shape of Texas radio series on architecture that aired on Texas NPR affiliate stations for 11 years. She served as the 2015 national president of the American Institute of Architects.


Brian Verardo, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP, is a principal at MRWM Landscape Architects. Brian has over 23 years’ experience working for private sector landscape architecture firms. His professional emphasis is on creating opportunities to connect people with the natural world in unique and meaningful ways through thoughtful and creative design.


Aaron Zahm, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP, is a principal at MRWM Landscape Architects. Aaron has over 16 years’ experience in landscape and irrigation design, water-harvesting system design, construction cost estimating, and construction observation. He has extensive knowledge of native plants and water conservation practices in landscape architecture.


Valdis Zusmanis is an Associate Principal with Perkins & Will. His portfolio spans landscape architecture, urban design, and landscape planning, encompassing a wide variety of public and private projects located throughout the world. Recognized with numerous awards, he is committed to the design of sustainable environments in the civic realm.

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Steiner, F. Landscape governance: the prospects for the SITES rating system. Socio Ecol Pract Res 2, 301–310 (2020).

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  • Sustainable sites
  • Site design
  • Ecosystem services
  • Ecological design
  • Landscape governance