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Archive for the ‘Recession Watch’ Category

I say broadly! Several posts in this blog are directed at new graduates and job seekers (check the Recession Watch category to the right). This one follows in that vein. It is common for landscape architecture education to be narrowly tailored and made to conform to accreditation standards. This means that the end goal of landscape architecture education has been traditional design practice, even if that goal is unstated (there have always been alternative career paths). Curricula are developed to facilitate this outcome and maintain accreditation. What happens if the likely outcomes for graduates are something other than traditional design practice, as is happening now? What does that mean for the value of LA design education? If traditional LA practice were the only use for a LA education, we’d be doomed. As a pragmatic type, I’ve struggled with this question. But I’ve decided that a design education, and a landscape architecture design education in particular, is a tremendous opportunity for students these days – even if the slim job offerings say otherwise. Why would I say that? (more…)

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Neither been there, nor done that – that’s my caveat for all advice from older people to young job seekers today. We haven’t been here before. You’ve heard the comparisons, right? Not since the Great Depression … If you were an 18-year-old job seeker in 1930, you would be 99 years old now. 99 year olds might have some good advice for young people today. With the caveat, I am going to dispense advice anyway – to Ryan, who is working in a seafood warehouse one year after graduation, who still has a passion for landscape architecture and is very eager to set off on a career path. I have highlighted some lucky young LAs in previous posts (here, here, and here), but I know that there are a lot of people like Ryan too. They need a source of optimism and inspiration. But first, some sobering reality. One of the best charts I’ve seen on where we stand comes from the blog Calculated Risk. The chart is current through May 2011.

Comparison of Job Losses in Times of Recession

The good news? A slight uptick in that red line. OK, it’s the kind of image that makes you want to bury your head in the sand, but that’s not an option. And waiting it out isn’t one either. Ryan needs a job that will launch his career. Where should he start? (more…)

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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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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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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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Since the recession began (long ago in Dec 2007) and its impact on landscape architecture began to become clear (2009), I have looked for information online that might shed light on how landscape architecture is being transformed. I have found very little – except posts by recent grads looking for jobs or people considering this profession and wondering if it is a good idea. Is there little discussion and analysis because everyone is just hoping that things get back to “normal” soon? We’re all optimists? Or am I just not looking in the right places?

Recently I began collecting anecdotes from people either practicing in the field or looking for a job in the field as a way to get a glimpse of what is happening. So far, I have a small sample, but the stories I am hearing are interesting and varied. And they’re not as depressing as I might have thought. Perhaps I should not be surprised that creative people have (mostly) found creative ways to get by, and maybe even thrive, in difficult circumstances. I will be posting these stories over the next few weeks in the Recession Watch category.

Specifically, I asked:

As someone who teaches in a landscape architecture program, I have become anxious as graduation time arrives while the economy remains stagnant. The Great Recession has had a significant impact on the profession. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the promises or pitfalls of practice now. Do you see any “green shoots”? Any emerging areas of practice, including the nonprofit sector? Any advice for someone in school today and/or graduating next month?

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In October of 2009, I made a list of what I thought might be outcomes of the economic collapse in the U.S. on landscape/land use planning. Which of these has come true? I think it depends on where you live. Here are my 2009 guesses:

Land use effects of a weak economy

  • A near halt to new construction, residential and commercial, dramatically slowing land consumption at the urban fringe
  • A slower pace(?) to urban infill; foreclosures creating abandoned neighborhoods
  • Rise in the number of renter-occupied structures/neighborhoods
  • A reversal of gentrification trends in some city neighborhoods
  • A wave of new dead malls and other grayfield sites, especially as retail contracts
  • Cheaper land prices – which could help efforts by land trusts, although it looks like their boom is over too
  • In rural areas, land conversion halted – a chance to re-think agriculture?
  • Fewer areas of second home development. Potentially land abandonment, like second home owners in foreclosure
  • In desperate attempts to appear “business-friendly,” communities give away the store – sacrificing, neglecting, pillaging the qualities of place that
    could have otherwise enhanced their chances of survival
  • The need to re-examine large-lot zoning given the collapse of rampant development. Which communities will allow cluster development now?
  • A focus on green retrofits rather than wholly new green construction
  • Local governments rethinking all basic services – including parks
  • Infrastructure costs need to be contained
  • Opportunity for more shared services across jurisdictional boundaries; collaboration between local govt and local businesses

Planning/design consequences

  • Desire for plans increased; desire to control/guide community destiny
  • Planning/design implementation funding is lacking – future funding uncertain
  • Mixed reception to visioning exercises – Desire to create positive change, but pessimism over future?
  • Value of community-building design implementation efforts high, if funding can be found
  • Need for creative vision – no more planning as maintainer of status quo
  • Green, livable community strategies still sought; local governments seek to differentiate themselves from their neighbors
  • Need to demonstrate relationship between good planning/design and economic development

And some questions about what landscape architects can contribute

How can the planning/design process reveal possibilities that might not otherwise be seen? How can visualization techniques build broad community support for actions that contribute to community survival, community resilience?

UPDATE: One factor that I did not consider in 2009 is that the federal government would embrace deficit reduction in the way it has, leading to the virtual abandonment of state and local governments in a time of need. The massive layoffs of local government employees, including teachers, was something that I did not see coming. Like many other progressives, I hope to see this reversed, accompanied by infrastructure investment.

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How has the economic turmoil that officially began in December of 2007 affected the profession and land use planning? I distinctly remember talking to my class in the fall of 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed, wondering out loud what this all meant. It felt like some kind of slow-motion train wreck. Most of those students graduated this year, in May of 2011, and they have been labeled a “lost generation.” I hate that label and the challenges that these recent graduates face.

One recent graduate in landscape architecture, J. Lyons (MLA 09) told me that she “honestly feel[s] like we’re in the midst of a very hasty and significant paradigm shift because of the combination of pressing environmental and economic concerns.” A paradigm shift is exactly right. Everything needs to be reconsidered, in my opinion, especially for those of us living in the United States. After 3 1/2 years of recession (or now “recovery”), people are starting to catch on to the fact that things have changed … probably permanently. Among other things, I’d like to explore in this blog the implications of this paradigm shift on the profession.

For now, I’ll start with my list of what I think will affect professional and academic practice.

Factors that will shape future practice:

  • the demand for interdisciplinary approaches to complex environmental and urban land use problems;
  • the need for a better understanding of urban ecological systems;
  • the importance of quantifying the value of interventions (based on monitoring of built works);
  • in a time of fiscal austerity, resource-efficient communities;
  • design in developing countries.

How should the paradigm shift be addressed in education?

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