When the American Society of Landscape Architects bestowed their highest honor on Charlene LeBleu by electing her to the ASLA Council of Fellows, they were recognizing her “exceptional accomplishments of a sustained period of time.” In LeBleu’s case, her accomplishments began in her childhood in Saint Augustine, Fla., where she put her early interest in ecology to work by winning 4-H state and national competitions in horticulture and began a career trajectory towards landscape architecture.
After studying forest resources and conservation at the University of Florida, LeBleu worked for the Soil Conservation Service in Georgia. She launched her own horticulture based design-build firm in 1986, engaging in collaborations with landscape architects, architects, and engineers. Her largest undertaking was working with FEMA and ROSSER International to restore Albany State’s historic campus after a flood destroyed 22 buildings in 1994. This four-year, $23 million flood recovery project led her to realize that she wanted to be a landscape architect and community planner.
As LeBleu explains, “I became a landscape architect and planner because I see both of these professions as having opportunities to change the world we live in. I see landscape architects as having one foot in science and the other in design. Design informed by science can mitigate water quality, climate change and address socio-economic challenges within our cities. However, just because you design for common good doesn’t mean that you can implement your design. The policy must be there to support the design. So, I became a planner so I could work to inform policy to move science and design forward. Landscape architecture and planning also share a common ground to work at multiple scales. What you design at the subdivision lot level scale can have wide implications at a neighborhood, city and watershed scale.”
LeBleu completed Auburn’s dual degree Master of Landscape Architecture and Community Planning program magna cum laude in 2003. She stayed on to teach one year in the landscape architecture program and never left. Now an associate professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, LeBleu strives to instill in her students an environmental conscience, land ethic and the need to realize that conservation of the earth’s resources, especially water, is of utmost importance.
“Charlene LeBleu is an excellent teacher, approaching every classroom with an enthusiasm and passion for her topic that captures the hearts and minds of her students,” said David Hinson, head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. “She is also one of our most accomplished researcher/scholars. She has built a reputation as an expert on watershed management and the restoration of wetlands and stream corridors, and has developed an impressive network of partners with colleagues from across the university, state agencies, and community organizations.”
As LeBleu explains, “I love the holistic nature of landscape architecture and working with all the disciplines for environmental and human health.”
Thanks to one of her collaborations, the children at Auburn’s Boykin Community Center now have a more beautiful place to play, and the Saugahatchee watershed is healthier. “Green for Life!” is collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to solving the center’s stormwater runoff problems and to creating a watershed education program.
Under LeBleu’s guidance, landscape architecture students recruited volunteers from many university groups and the community to implement the stormwater improvements that they had designed. The landscape architecture students won a 2010 Alabama ASLA Student Award of Merit for their portion of the project, as well as the 2010 Alabama Chapter of the American Planning Association Student Project of the Year award. The “Green for Life!” Project was included in the Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Management Case Studies complied by ASLA.
Another large hands-on project that LeBleu and her students undertook were master plans to commemorate the historic significance of AfricaTown in Mobile County, Ala., in the design of a new state park. AfricaTown is an area where the descendants of the last recorded group of captive Africans brought to the United States continue to live and make their home, and LeBleu’s students developed designs emphasizing natural systems analysis as a basis for site planning large-scale community facilities and parks.
Because of her numerous state, community, and campus collaborations that include the implementation of sustainability education projects at the Davis Arboretum, the Raptor Center and Dudley Hall, LeBleu was among the first group of Spirit of Sustainability award winners given by the Office of Sustainability this past spring. “Charlene’s efforts are an excellent example of applied scholarship in sustainability, using real world projects to teach students and communities how to work with natural systems rather than trying to control them. In her classes, students design and build systems that create a better quality of life for Alabama communities through restoration of natural stormwater flow processes and other green infrastructure designs that mimic nature’s approach to stormwater.”
From a childhood that gave her an early love for coastal ecology to an academic career that has received worldwide recognition for her expertise in watershed research and management, Charlene LeBleu’s “exceptional accomplishments over an extended period of time” demonstrate her environmental conscience and ethic that are an inspiration for her colleagues and students in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction. She is the Auburn faculty.