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Posts Tagged ‘recession’

Last summer, I began this blog with several posts aimed at graduates of landscape architecture programs who have faced difficulty in the tough job market. Some of those posts, like this one and this one, have been among the most popular. When I saw the series of opinion pieces in the New York Times Sunday Review (June 3, 2012) titled “My Brilliant Career,” with the tagline of “it’s worth remembering that careers aren’t built in a straight line, and that sometimes the oddest jobs are the ones that matter most,” I knew I had to read the articles. I especially like the entry by Leonard Mlodinow and the excerpt below.

Many of us wish for the security of a straight line path. When a career proves to be more unpredictable, it can be disconcerting. But the sinuous path often leads to a fulfilling life. And sinuous is an apt descriptor for many landscape architecture careers. Take heart and be inspired by Mlodinow’s words.

When we’re in college, we think about our future as a direct line from now to then, from here to there. You might get an internship at a financial services firm, then become an assistant, and gradually move up until someday you’re the boss. That’s a fine life’s path. But if you look at the careers of many successful people, you’ll find that their route is often far more sinuous. And if you look at happy people, you’ll find even fewer who traveled a straight line.

When I got my first job at Caltech after graduate school, a famous mathematician warned me not to keep working on that theory of infinite dimensions. It’s a bad idea to make a career of your Ph.D. work, he told me. Then, when I began to consider problems in an apparently too different area of physics, he told me: “You can’t keep jumping around. You have to stay in the field you made your name in.” I was 26, and I was supposed to think the boundaries of my career were already sharply defined.

The life that mathematician urged on me would probably have been an equally happy one. But instead of listening to his advice, I have written for television, produced computer games, designed a curriculum for math education and returned to Caltech, to physics research, teaching and writing — this time, nonfiction. I still see that famous mathematician, now an elder statesman, walking around the campus. I haven’t talked to him in a few years, but I hear that when my name comes up, he just mutters and shakes his head. And that’s fine with me.

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Since last summer, I have been writing about the impact of the Great Recession on planning and landscape architecture. My vantage point, as a college professor, means that I see creative, bright young people who have had the odds stacked against them for the past few years. Today, I am passing on an optimistic article, one of the many written over the past four years. Somehow, this one has a hint of possible truth to it, and I know that I, for one, am eager to hear good news. The premise is that the U.S. has finally reached a point where pent-up demand will finally loosen the purse-strings of those who have been sitting on cash and afraid to spend. Perhaps it rings true because I just came from a meeting where attendees discussed putting a multi-million construction project out to bid (we’ll never get a better interest rate…) because I’m one of the people driving an old car, knowing that it won’t last indefinitely.

Of the people who fear the country’s best days are behind it, a well-known economist recently said that people in 1933 thought the same thing. In that spirit, take what you will from this: (more…)

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Second Phase of The High Line

Suspended animation, with some promising stirrings of change. That is my assessment of the past year. Expectant waiting, but little change overall in the U.S. economy. In the coming year, there will be a U.S. presidential election, meaning that any significant new action (economic, environmental) is at least a year away. New economic uncertainties have arisen in countries around the globe. The planning and design professions do not exist apart from these circumstances. Four years into the Great Recession, what does seem to be changing is interest in activism, highlighted in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations this past fall. Activism in planning and design circles means community empowerment, innovative, insurgent urban design, and continued attention to all things local, including food systems, infrastructure, and alternative transportation. These stirrings of change portend exciting developments in 2012, I think, but not the scale of excitement seen in the bubble years. That could be a very good thing, really.

The short 160-year or so history of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be much of a guide to the present, although there are some parallels. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, some landscape architects continued to plan gardens for the owners of great estates (the 1% of that time), while others planned and carried out New Deal programs, finding employment with the federal government. To date, there have been no new New Deal initiatives in the U.S., although our aging infrastructure begs for investment. Perhaps after the election…  Meanwhile, some landscape architects and land planners serve the global elite, while others serve local communities in a host of ways, often with nonprofit organizations as government jobs at all levels continue to be cut.

An emerging trend is the latter – design that serves the public good (admittedly, a loaded phrase) – an impulse that is closely aligned with the fall’s significant uprising, OWS. The website, Archinect, reflects this in its top 10 design milestones of 2011 and top 10 design initiatives to watch in 2012. Local is big, and getting bigger. The New York Times made the case this week, as it tracked major changes in environmental organizations, many of which are shifting their activism toward local issues as a means of survival. People have little faith in the big aims these days, like cap-and-trade or new New Deals, so they are focusing more on creating change in their own communities, something that seems much more tangible. Urban agriculture and tactical urbanism are manifestations of this urge to take matters into one’s own hands (individually and collectively) and make change happen.

A scan of other top 10 lists and year-in-review posts reveals the following causes for optimism: (more…)

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Park Facts

The Trust for Public Land just released the 2011 City Parks Facts report. Among the interesting findings:

  • 120 parks were added in the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2010, even as 3.9% of the park work force was cut.
  • The most parks per capita are found in Madison, WI, with 12.7 per 10,000 residents, with Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Anchorage, and Buffalo following.
  • The greatest number of playgrounds per capita are found in Madison, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, and Norfolk.
  • There were 110 fewer public swimming pools in operation in 2010 than in 2009, and this is the only facility type to decrease.
  • 20,000 community garden plots are found in the 100 largest cities, with the cold cities of Minneapolis and Madison leading the way, having roughly 33-36 garden plots per 10,000 people.
  • Minneapolis has 13.3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, considered a relatively high amount given the city’s dense development. Otherwise, spread-out cities like Anchorage and Albuquerque have higher rates of parkland per resident.
  • $200 or more per resident is the cost of parkland in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, compared to a median of $84.

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Nothing like a little break and a (fairly) relaxing holiday to clear one’s head. The holiday week began, though, with more news of recent graduates struggling in the weak economy. No advice from the comfortably employed seems sufficient, but I did run across these words from Forrest Church (2009) this weekend which I pass along:

I have a mantra that I’ve come to live by over the past few years, and it’s served me very well. It is “Want what you have, do what you can, be who you are.”

He explains all three parts of the mantra, but I will just relate the middle, as the other two seem self-explanatory.

Doing what you can means doing all you can, no more and no less. It’s not just mucking by, but it’s not trying to do more than you can either, not stretching yourself out so far that you can’t help but force a failure.

I’m going to focus on the part about not stretching so far as to force a failure… And while I’m on the subject of motivation, I will add the motto of my former workplace, Virginia Tech. It is ut prosim, that I may serve.

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In December, we celebrate the 4th anniversary of the official start of the Great Recession or Lesser Depression. One silver lining that I see would be if communities (i.e., community residents) started to take matters into their own hands and began to create their own better futures. Recently there have been signs that some communities are doing just that. From today’s New York Times, the story of the new department store in Saranac Lake, NY, entirely financed by shares sold to community residents. After the town’s last department store closed, residents had to drive 50 miles to buy basic necessities, and they were considering an offer by Wal-Mart to develop a store. Not liking either alternative…

But rather than accept their fate, residents of Saranac Lake did something unusual: they decided to raise capital to open their own department store. Shares in the store, priced at $100 each, were marketed to local residents as a way to “take control of our future and help our community,” said Melinda Little, a Saranac Lake resident who has been involved in the effort from the start. “The idea was, this is an investment in the community as well as the store.”

And later in the article:

Think of it as the retail equivalent of the Green Bay Packers — a department store owned by its customers that will not pick up and leave when a better opportunity comes along or a corporate parent takes on too much debt.

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Apparently some publicity and your project listed in an official U.S. Government report! This one slipped by me until now, when I read the USA Today article about the new Department of Interior publication called America’s Great Outdoors: Fifty-State Report, the culmination of President Obama’s year-long Great Outdoors Initiative. Two projects from each state share the honor of being identified as worthy of being promoted. According to Interior Secretary Salazar, these 100 projects are “among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the nation.” These projects would promote health and create jobs, two of the nation’s highest priorities! This would be why USA Today also reports:

The projects are part of President Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative, announced last year, and result from 50 meetings between state leaders and senior federal officials. They won’t receive new federal funding but technical support and guidance.

The development of the report itself was a jobs initiative, keeping some Interior Department staff employed as they traveled the country meeting with state reps.

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