ASLA Allies Outline Visions for the Future

ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. The High Line, Section 2 by James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

ASLA President Mark Focht, FASLA, first deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Parks department, invited the heads of four allied organizations to speak to the ASLA board and chapter leadership last week about what they perceive to be future opportunities and challenges.

Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) — who was trained as a landscape architect but ended up going into real estate economics — said ULI will continue its focus on both the global and the local. They will further expand overseas, “bringing our non-ideological perspective to urban development” to Asia and Africa, while also strengthening their local councils, which focus on the issues of immediate concern to communities. At this scale, Phillips said “education — reaching out to thousands of local high schools — is a priority.”

Long-time friend of landscape architects, Paul Farmer, CEO of the American Planning Association (APA), said “our collaboration with ASLA has been excellent.” Farmer, who is retiring from APA this summer, said “planning is about outcomes, using a open and transparent process to create what people want: livable neighborhoods and clean air and water.” Farmer said APA will increasingly focus on the “social side of sustainability — the equity side. Most organizations are too focused on the environmental or economic side of sustainability.”

He said APA is now providing direct assistance to around a third of its chapters to fight anti-planning efforts led by the Tea Party movement. “There are draconian bills coming up in legislatures, but only the one in Alabama passed.” Farmer was dismayed by this development, as “just a few years ago, smart growth was an issue both Democrats and Republicans could agree upon. Now everything is totally polarized. So our assistance is defensive. But polls still tell us that there is tremendous public support for planning.”

Barbara Tulipane, National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) outlined her group’s new approach to communications. She said when speaking with public officials, “we have to sell them on the many benefits of parks — how parks save us money or make us money — but when NRPA is focused on reaching the public, we use common language.” Parks are about forging “a real emotional connection with nature.” As an example, she pulled up a quote from one happy park-goer: “that was the best day of my life!”

With 40,000 members, NRPA will focus on “ensuring 300 million Americans have access to a place to play and connect with nature and each other.” Half of members are professionals and the other half are park-lovers. “So we are not about the profession of park management but the parks.” Tulipane said “parks are essential to smart growth. Parks are a solution provider, offering benefits in terms of conservation, health and wellness, and social equity.”

Randall Over, head of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), said ASCE will ramp up efforts on dealing with climate change as an engineering challenge. “There, I said it, we openly talk about climate change. Climate change has changed our design standards. We need to design more resilient infrastructure. We need to focus on the social side of resilience, too, including who will operate and maintain infrastructure in the case of a serious climatic event.”

To encourage more “sustainable horizontal infrastructure,” ASCE will soon roll out Envision, a new rating system. “Some two out of every three projects that have been certified are landscapes.” Another 25 pilots are in the pipeline.

ASCE will also continue to get a lot of out of its well-known infrastructure report card. The U.S. has gone up from a D to a D+. “We do this to get action.” Over also mentioned a $15 million fundraising campaign now underway to finance an IMAX movie about the wonders of engineering.

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