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Archive for June, 2011

I have been trying to convince people (colleagues, professionals) that climate adaptation is an area where demand will only grow. Unfortunately, the climate change debate has muddied the issue in people’s minds. The debate is largely about the causes of climate change (anthropogenic or not?) and perhaps whether or not specific climatic events are part of a trend. But most people agree that changes are occurring. Planning for adaptation to an already changing climate is lagging far behind where it should be because of the contentious politics. But the changes themselves, from rising sea levels to urban heat-related mortality to failing stormwater infrastructure, will force a response at the scale at which the problem is most acute – the LOCAL level. Unlike the hard sell for mitigation efforts (you MUST change your behavior!), adaptation needs will create their own demand for a response.

Along these lines, PreventionWeb highlights the role of cities in climate adaptation. Eric Chu, author of the post, says

Cities are uniquely positioned to deal with climate challenges because they have the most detailed knowledge of local conditions and the needs of their citizens. The concentration of people and economic activities in cities means that managing the impacts of climate change, which range from rising sea levels to increasing extreme weather events, is essential to avoid human and economic losses.

And he gives the example of Boston, a city that is well ahead of most other U.S. cities in terms of adaptation planning.

the City of Boston, USA, has been actively addressing climate adaptation and promoting climate action amongst its citizenry. In 2010, Boston published Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution, which presented to Mayor Thomas Menino recommendations on green development mechanisms and urban adaptations to sea level rise, expanded flood zones, and more frequent heat waves. The City followed that up by publishing A Climate of Progress: City of Boston Climate Action Plan Update 2011 to highlight how city departments have started putting these recommendations into effect.

Why Boston cares – Map from the Sea Level Rise Planning Maps site.

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Tough times test us. And landscape architecture students who graduated in the last 2-3 years have been tested. The bold, tenacious ones seem to have found ways to make it, even if their motivation and sense of self-worth have been challenged along the way. When they land in a job they love, it is especially sweet. That is the case for Mark Bogdan, a BLA graduate of 2010. He has found his first good career opportunity with a nonprofit organization. (As I keep hearing about new grads being employed by nonprofits, I wonder if it is a trend.) Mark generously shares his experience here in the hope that it will help other newly minted BLAs and MLAs.

I was very worried, nervous, frustrated, almost angry about graduating in this difficult economy.  I tried to make it a point to ‘stay within the industry,’ and I used my past experiences to filter through the job search.  Since I had some construction and site design experience, I applied for everything from entry-level LA, construction foreman at a construction company, residential design/build, nursery worker (to learn more about plants), etc.  Since I had no ties, I applied to big firms who had work in China, India, Dubai, Europe (anywhere and everywhere). Still I had no bites for a job. (more…)

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Syracuse is hoping the nickname “Emerald City” sticks, and that “green” is an identity that will distinguish it from its urban competitors. In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency helped add substance to the claim by naming Syracuse one of 10 EPA Green Infrastructure (GI) partnership communities. The designation came in response to an ambitious effort by the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County to use stormwater-focused GI techniques (green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, and so forth) on an unusually extensive scale – throughout the urban watershed of the City’s main tributary, Onondaga Creek. The Save the Rain program aims to improve water quality in Onondaga Creek and Onondaga Lake by reducing stormwater runoff that is currently causing combined sewer overflows, a situation common in many U.S. cities. Commitment to the effort, driven by a 2009 amended consent order between NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Onondaga County, the urban context, and scale of the intervention make this an example worth watching.

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That is, does it matter to landscape architecture educators? To any graduate from a landscape architecture program, that question sounds crazy (or worse). My own working class roots cause me to bristle at the thought. On a personal level, an emotional level, of course, it matters very much whether or not graduates of our programs get jobs. It is really a privilege to teach highly creative people, as many of our grads are, and therefore very painful to see them leave college and not find the success they deserve. I am featuring the personal stories of some recent grads in this blog because I think their experiences are important in more ways than one.

The question really is, in what way does it matter to educators? Is it just on an emotional level, a hope that students you know personally will succeed? Or do the difficulties faced by graduates in the past couple of years suggest that parts of our curricula need to be reconsidered? The answer depends on whether you think the current economic upheaval is just a cyclical event and that we’ll eventually turn the corner and be back to “normal,” or you think that a major restructuring is underway. Educational institutions respond very slowly to change, and that is probably very appropriate in the case of the rise and fall of the national economy. If, however, a major restructuring is taking place, and new forces are shaping the profession in lasting ways, shouldn’t education respond? And, in the near term, shouldn’t we find ways to emphasize a breadth and diversity of knowledge and skills that help new grads be as flexible as possible when they embark on their careers?

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What advice do recent graduates (1-4 years out) in landscape architecture have for students who are graduating now?

First, some optimism. In the spring of 2011, there were more job openings in landscape architecture than in the previous 2 years, according to job watchers on the East and West Coasts. For example, Archa Malhotra Kalla, employed since 2008 in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area said:

Yes, the economy has had a major impact on the profession, but I do feel that things are picking up now. I’ve seen more job listings in the past 2-3 weeks than I had in the past 2 years. I personally have been involved with construction administration and some landscape inspection for a highway project. [Editor’s note: diversification.] Also, I used this time to learn more about green building practices (get and maintain professional credentials) and the sustainable sites initiative.

And, in California, K.M. (MLA 2007) had the following reaction to the question about “green shoots”: (more…)

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Landscape architecture academics frequently debate the role of “theory” in the discipline. There is a sense that landscape architecture cannot mature without a body of theory supporting it. Some authors have sought out and expounded upon theories from other disciplines that apply to ours, and others have articulated theories that are unique to landscape architecture. What this debate suggests, though, is that practice is not enough. Especially on university campuses. Doesn’t this give practice short shrift? (more…)

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Planetizen has a featured article on Laurie Olin. Worth reading.

Laurie Olin: A Student of People | Planetizen.

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Nonprofit organizations have not been immune to the economic downturn, especially those dependent on donations. However, it appears that an increasing number of landscape architecture graduates in this region (New York) are finding jobs in the nonprofit sector. J. Lyons (MLA 2009) reports that there are “green shoots” in her professional niche in the “In the Field” excerpt below.

I’ve been seeing a lot of green shoots, mostly because I’m working in an environmental/sustainability field, and these movements finally seem to  be becoming more of the norm and less fringe. I’m sadly grant funded, but, where many of my colleagues who are not in the environmental field are getting program cuts, I’ve been able to take advantage of a wide range of funding opportunities to expand programs. I honestly feel like we’re in the midst of a very hasty and significant paradigm shift because of the combination of pressing environmental and economic concerns.

The emerging areas are definitely “green infrastructure”, sustainable agriculture, and regional community planning that integrates rural and urban systems (food/agriculture and energy).

We’ve hired a handful of people in the last few months, and regardless of program and function – we look for an ability to be interdisciplinary, applied experience instead of pure academic experience, and self-directed inquiry and problem solving.

My advice is to volunteer! Students and graduates need to show that they are constantly engaged and involved, inquisitive and proactive. If someone can’t find a design job right away, seek out a job that is interesting and find a way to design in your free time – volunteer or do design competitions.  I feel like things are moving very quickly and evolving rapidly (do I sound like an old fogey already?) so adaptability, gumption and perseverance seem to be key.

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As described in a previous post, I sent messages to a variety of landscape architects and recent grads to get feedback on their experiences as influenced by the national economy. The most global (in more ways than one) response I received was from Nick Onody, MLA 2009, who is employed in a multidisciplinary firm in Toronto. The breadth of his comments suggests that I start with his take on professional trends and follow-up in later posts with other people’s stories of personal experience. I think each view can teach us something about what is happening now and how those both “in the field” (currently employed in the profession) and “on the fence” (seeking employment in the profession) see the world. Nick’s view is strongly influenced by landscape urbanism and its spinoffs.

Thank you for the message. I think this is quite an interesting endeavor on your part and timed perfectly at such a critical time in the design professions. The ‘Great Recession’ has led to a variety of trends and forces that have sent the profession in fundamentally different directions. Over the past decade, we have witnessed landscape come into vogue. Sustainability and the rise of LEED. Landscape as ‘scene’ to landscape as urbanism. Terrorism and natural disasters. The rise of megacities and the influx of city migrants globally. Population decline and suburban foreclosures locally. What does this all mean? What has changed and what is to come? (more…)

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What was and what next. Architectural Record published this review, What Was… 2000-2010 – Features – Architectural Record, of 2000-2010 that considers the impact of change on architecture. There are numerous articles on what next? too. To what extent are these ideas applicable to landscape architecture?

The money quote from Clifford A. Pearson: “After a period of wealth creation on a scale never before seen, what do we have to show for it all?”

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