Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture
Fellow, Institute on the Environment
Director, Restorative Environments and Biocultural Design Lab
Opening People’s Senses and Reconnecting Them to Everyday Nature and Nearby Nature
Good urban and regional forms are needed now more than ever to benefit ecosystem services and provide all people with a connection to nature. In addition, the more conscious use of space for biodiversity and the web of life will help people to flourish in urban and regional environments.
One of Dr. Musacchio’s primary concerns is poorly designed urban and regional environments with little emphasis on biophilic and biocultural sensations, emotions, thoughts, and meanings. Dr. Musacchio works mainly on integrating different greening approaches (e.g., biophilic design, biocultural design, wildlife-friendly gardens, rewilding, ecological restoration, and urban agriculture) into sustainable open space systems that include public and private lands. Her training in systems theory, landscape architecture, ecological design, landscape planning, and urban & regional landscape ecology allows her to consider this topic from multiple scales—from the yard, street, and neighborhood to the city, watershed, region, country, and planet.
Her interests focus on enhancing people’s experiences of nature and improving how other species experience human-influenced landscapes. She is especially concerned with how contemporary lifestyles and the design of cities, towns, and regions tend to disconnect people, biodiversity, and the web of life from deep nature experiences. This situation is a major concern when extreme environmental change could shift urban and regional landscapes into ones less suitable to support people, biodiversity, and the web of life. Her work emphasizes finding new ways to rethink the design of cities, towns, and regions through the deeper integration of biophilic thought and practice.
Teaching and Mentoring Activities
Dr. Musacchio teaches several courses on these topics at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She encourages students to develop an interdisciplinary perspective that facilitates the integration of science and art in their thoughts and practices. She facilitates classroom experiences to help students explore the pluralistic meanings of ecology, culture, biophilia, and biodiversity in their studies. Students from across disciplines take her courses, including landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, conservation biology, natural resources, urban and regional planning, public policy, sustainability, humanities, and the arts.
Her faculty affiliations at the University of Minnesota include the Conservation Sciences Program in the College of Food and Natural Resource Sciences. She was previously affiliated with the Urban and Regional Planning Program and the Water Resource Sciences Program. In 2022, she was selected to be a summer internship mentor for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of California Santa Cruz, which seeks to diversify leadership in the conservation fields by developing the next generation of leaders among undergraduate students. In addition, she serves as a member of the University of Minnesota Graduate School Advisory Board from 2022 to 2025.
Examples of Projects in Her Research Portfolio
One of the key questions of her research is: How do people's experiences of urban nature influence their values, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge about nature conservation and their relations with plants, wildlife, and water?
This question motivates Dr. Musacchio to discover what plants, wildlife, and water means to people when they experience urban and regional green spaces. She is intrigued by people's interactions with different types of urban nature (or urban natures) in green infrastructure, urban forests, remnant habitats, gardens, etc. When people transform the landscapes they live and work in, they create different types of urban nature depending on what the web of life and biodiversity means to them. She is very interested in these research topics:
- How people reconnect to green spaces as a way to reduce stress and improve well-being
- How people's values, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge influence their relationships with ecosystem services and disservices, biodiversity, food, and water
- How changes in weather and climate might shift people's understanding of nature, biodiversity, water, and the web of life
Her current research projects emphasize:
- Finding new ways to integrate biophilic and biocultural sensations, emotions, thoughts, and meanings into the sustainable design of homes, neighborhoods, cities, and metropolitan regions
- Examining how biophilic design, biocultural design, rewilding, and ecological restoration might be used to conceptually rethink and redesign regional and urban landscapes for public health, biodiversity, and ecosystem services
- The theoretical, conceptual, and applied connections between sustainable landscapes and landscape sustainability
Her portfolio of research projects also includes a diverse range of interdisciplinary work. Her research projects include participation on an interdisciplinary research team—funded by NASA—that investigated how city size and shape influenced severe weather, urban pollution, and canopy transition patterns in the Great Plains. Her work with this project looked at bridging land change science to green infrastructure practice for sustainable and resilient metropolitan regions. Her fellowship at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota investigated the topic of boundary management as an approach in the sciences to better connect theory and application in planning, policy, management, and design.
Her research has been published in journals such as Landscape and Urban Planning, Landscape Journal, Landscape Ecology, and Urban Ecosystems. She has presented her research in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. She has also worked on international design and planning projects.
She is an editorial board member of Landscape and Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture Frontiers. In addition, she was an editorial board member of Landscape Ecology and Biodiversity and Conservation. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Association of the Collegiate Schools of Planning, the International Association of Landscape Ecology, and the Society for Urban Ecology.
B.L.A., Magna Cum Laude, State University New York, Syracuse
M.L.A., State University New York, Syracuse
Ph.D., Urban and Regional Science (Emphasis areas: Landscape Systems and Environmental Planning and Policy), Texas A&M University, College Station
- Musacchio, L. 2020. Landscape sustainability. The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology. John Wiley & Sons. (Add hotlink to https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118786352.wbieg2039)
- Musacchio, L. 2018. Ecologies as a complement to ecosystem services? Exploring how landscape planners might advance understanding about human-nature relationships in changing landscapes. Landscape Ecology 33:847–860
- Musacchio, L. 2013. Key concepts and research priorities for landscape sustainability (introduction to special issue). Landscape Ecology 28:995–998
- Musacchio, L. 2013. Cultivating deep care: Integrating landscape ecological research into the cultural dimension of ecosystem services. Landscape Ecology 28:1025–1038
- Musacchio, L. 2011. The grand challenge to operationalize landscape sustainability and the design-in-science paradigm. Landscape Ecology 26:1–5
- Musacchio, L. 2011. The world's matrix of vegetation: Hunting the hidden dimension of landscape sustainability. Landscape and Urban Planning 100:356–360
- Musacchio, L. 2009. The scientific basis for the design of landscape sustainability: A conceptual framework for translational landscape research and practice of designed landscapes and the six Es of landscape sustainability. Landscape Ecology 24:993–1013
- Musacchio, L. 2009. The ecology and culture of landscape sustainability (Introduction to special issue). Landscape Ecology 24:989–992
- LA 3204 Holistic Landscape Ecology and Bioregional Practice
- LA 3501 Environmental Design in the Biological and Physical Context
- LA 4901 Design of Regional Landscapes Studio
- LA 5204 Metropolitan Landscape Ecology
- LA 8301 Research Issues and Methods
Selected Honors and Awards
- Fellow, Institute on the Environment (2016–present)
- Resident Fellowship, Institute on the Environment (2012-2016)
- College of Design Outstanding Research Award (2010)
- Plane Tizen’s 2006 Top 10 Books Designing Small Parks: A Manual Addressing Social and Ecological Concerns Designing Small Parks (by Ann Forsyth and Laura Musacchio)
- Roy Jones Award for Outstanding Research (2005)