On the Recession and Landscape Architecture

Most of the discourse about the current economic situation is that of doom and gloom, with no one really willing to say when things will get better, just that we should give it some time and things should to improve. Real estate and the housing industry have taken huge hits and construction projects all over the place are being put on hold or simply walked away from. Unfortunately, architecture and landscape architecture are closely tied to the housing market. Both the AIA and ALSA have reported noticeable decreases in billable hours and projects. Job opportunities are closing up and some firms have had layoffs. While US News proclaimed landscape architecture as one of the top 30 professions for 2009, it is starting to sound like the wrong time to be looking into landscape architecture.

But what if it’s not? What if the economic crash is a great opportunity for design professionals?

A rousing Boston Globe editorial I discovered via ArchDaily suggests that the recession is indeed an opportunity. With budgets becoming even more of a limiting factor for projects, designers will have to come up with innovative responses to get the most of the project while staying within the budget constraints. The editorial notes that the design professions are uniquely suited for this because working within budgetary constraints is just one aspect of the business.

While the article illustrates its point mostly through architecture, landscape architecture will surely play a role as the pendulum swings back from lavish projects of the “Bilbao Effect” to focus on more pressing public and environmentally aware projects. Interest in more livable cities (as opposed to drivable cities) and public transportation is growing, which are areas of Landscape Architects’ expertise. So is creating and improving urban spaces that everyone cam use and enjoy.

Our society’s growing awareness of our environmental impact means ecologically driven restorative designs will continue to increase in importance in coming years. This is another area of expertise within landscape architecture.

And hopefully budget constraints will result in new cost-effective approaches to designed landscapes. Such innovative solutions could then become widespread and play an important role in improving our ecological impact, economic reality, and many other areas of our lives. Others have written here about how well-designed landscapes can save money, for example (Editor’s note).

Perhaps the recession is part of a pendulum swing that will help push our society towards reducing our environmental impact. The challenges born out of this recession may leave us with improved tools and ideas for shaping the world. As a student learning about landscape architecture, I certainly hope that these things are true. It will make for an interesting, challenging, and rewarding time to be entering the profession.

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