Landscape architecture is a diverse profession, borne of interests in design, natural environments, construction - a mix of dreamers and detailers. One of my favorite questions to spark conversation amongst colleagues is "How did you become a landscape architect?"
Our inherent diversity allows for such answers as "I always liked the outdoors and couldn't imagine life in a cubicle," "I had a lawn-mowing business in high school," or "I went to college to be an architect, but then I took an introductory design professions course and discovered landscape architecture."
Like many, I never knew there was such a profession as landscape architecture. In fact, I started off as a genetic engineering major. But once I discovered I could combine my passions for design, the environment and having a positive impact on the world around me, I was hooked. Oh, how I wish I had this revelation before those two semesters of organic chemistry!
This moment of enlightenment took place more than a decade ago, before Brad Pitt declared that if he were not an actor he would be a landscape architect and it became hip to be green. Unfortunately, while great strides have been made, in no small part to the sustainability movement, our profession continues to be challenged with how to most effectively promote ourselves. I believe the answer lies in our ability to spread the "good word" of landscape architecture through direct communication with students of all ages and our fellow design professionals. It is no secret that one of the most valuable business tools is a solid network. With today's mobile communication options and growing virtual communities like LinkedIn and Facebook, the theory of "six degrees of separation" seems to be shrinking to two or three.
A planner visited our office recently and after having travelled abroad and lived across the country, he had decided to move back to the Midwest. As we chatted, we learned that we were both from Minnesota and through the subsequent series of questions the degrees of separation whittled down to just one. As it turned out, he had been a student in my father's 7th grade science class. I share this story as a great example of how you never know who you will meet next, who they know and how you may be able to work together.
As our lives are increasingly interconnected and collaboration continues to be standard practice within the design disciplines, I encourage you to take full advantage of the networking opportunities available through our association. Much like the planning and landscape architecture disciplines function across a spectrum of scales, I will touch briefly on the state of the chapter, and our network, at three levels: regional, local and individual.
First, I'll step back to the "regional" picture. When we think about the planning and design process, from napkin sketch to ribbon-cutting, it is truly a team effort. It is only with a respectful understanding of the value each profession brings to the table that collectively we can be most successful. Today, organizations such as ours are faced with a scarcity of the resources most vital to our sustainability: time, money and volunteers. For us to maintain the level of service expected by our members, we must find effective ways to share resources. One of the most significant initiatives ILASLA will advance this year is a renewed investment in collaboration with like-minded organizations. Through events such as the recent ILAPA/ILASLA 2008 State Conference, joint educational sessions with AIA, or carrying on the tradition of annual mixers with the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association, we hope to further foster our relationships with allied professionals.
At the "local" level, another focus in 2009 will be recruitment to our association and the profession as a whole. Last year, during Landscape Architecture Month activities in April, ASLA's "Each One, Reach One" campaign shed light on the talent shortage facing our profession. In an effort to combat this issue, ASLA has developed a number of resources for state chapters, including a Career Discovery brochure, which our chapter printed and distributed to members for use in contacting their local high schools.
I am happy to report that we are now on our second printing based on the initiative's popularity. Also available on the ASLA web site: a presentation and activity ideas for elementary students introducing them to the profession. We are grateful to those of our members who volunteered to visit schools on career days, and look forward to that same level of enthusiasm this year.
For the second year, ILASLA partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation on their "Saturdays in the Studio" program focused on exposing students to landscape architecture. At the college level, we are pursuing opportunities to enhance our connections with future professionals at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as with the newly created landscape architecture program at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Whether doing public service projects, holding supplemental skill training sessions, or increasing membership by 60 this year, I am encouraged by the ambition of the U of I Student Chapter and we hope to further support their efforts as the year continues. We have submitted a nomination to establish an IIT Student Affiliate Chapter, and look forward to expanding our student outreach program to community and technical colleges.
While we accomplished our membership goal of 500 in '05, since then our membership total has plateaued. In 2009, we will be launching a full-scale membership drive in order to expand our network, enhance our financial stability and better serve our membership as a whole. Finally, we must examine the chapter as it relates to the individual. ILASLA serves as a resource for each member to help you "connect the dots" in developing a professional network, enhancing your skill set and advocating on your behalf. We encourage you to get involved - attend events, respond to advocacy requests, volunteer to speak about our profession at an elementary or high school, participate on a committee, or simply call an Executive Committee member to tell us what matters to you.
Recently, the Executive Committee gathered for our annual strategic planning session. We discussed the results of our recent membership survey and setting the chapter's course for the next year. From our membership drive to expanding our educational offerings, there are a number of exciting initiatives currently underway, not the least of which is the chapter's hosting of the national ASLA conference in September 2009.
Talk about expanding our network! Soon we will be welcoming well over 5,000 landscape architects and colleagues to our fair city. For those of you that have attended past conferences, you know that an incredible experience awaits us. Whether it is the fresh perspective or the feeling of being connected to something larger than yourself - there is just a natural energy that comes from spending time with so many landscape architects. I always walk away with a renewed commitment to our profession and overwhelming sense of pride when saying "I am a landscape architect." This conference, however, is not simply for landscape architects. I invite our fellow design professionals - architects, planners, engineers, landscape designers and contractors; clients; students and friends to attend a session, take a tour, or wander the expo hall to learn more about the profession and the foremost trends within our industry.
This will be a monumental year for the chapter. We will call upon our network - you, our members - - for your support and active involvement to make it a success. It is with great enthusiasm for our organization that I, and the Executive Committee, look forward to carrying out our mission and serving you in 2008-2009.
Erin Fiegel, ASLA