Advocacy in our Nation’s Capitol

Dave Harris, Utah Chapter Trustee and Tina Gillman, Utah Chapter President


By: David A. Harris, PLA, ASLA
Utah Chapter Trustee

During our National ASLA Board of Trustees meeting in Washington DC this spring, we were asked to divide into several working groups of 4 to 5 people and perform a Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis of our profession. This list was generated by a Trustee representative from almost every state in the US. It was an impressive activity to participate which generated some important issues we should consider.

The following is a summary of that list.

1. The breadth and scope of our profession far exceeds other allied professions.
2. Our collective creativity to solve problems, by leading interdisciplinary teams and being prime consultants.
3. ASLA national staff, longevity of key national staff members help maintain institutional knowledge and forward thinking ideas.
4. The new ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture in DC, including use by allied and other groups providing constant exposure to the profession.
5. Our ability to make a difference in the world through our public facilitation, planning and design skills.
6. Our ability to communicate and synthesize information on complex issues and present it in ways that are creative, innovative, and accessible to the public.
7. Federal government advocacy with help from our National ASLA staff.
8. LAM publication.
9. Financial strength/health.
10. Environmental stewards, expertise in environmental systems, and creative solutions.
11. Trained as generalists, unique in the design world; able to respond to changing/evolving issues (need to take credit for sustainability, green infrastructure, and the political demand of environmental awareness, etc.).

1. Lack of diversity (ethnicity, age, and gender).
2. More re-active than pro-active in taking a position and speaking up on issues.
3. Challenge of recruiting membership.
4. Lack of a diverse membership base that represents population base.
5. Communications to members and leadership groups remains a challenge.
6. Much of the public lacks knowledge about the breadth of work we do.
7. Being too quiet as a profession.
8. Size of the organization; membership represents less than half of total practitioners.
9. Participation in advocacy.
10. Job-Link too expensive and not being used.
11. Relatively small number of dollars for advocacy, particularly on state level.
12. Use of technical jargon that is hard for public to relate to.
13. Encroachment of services from allied professions.
14. Falling student enrollment.
15. Perception by allied groups that LAs aren’t leaders in green infrastructure, transportation, complete streets, urban design, planning, etc.
16. Perception that membership costs too much; not understanding how membership supports everyone in the profession nationally and at the state level to provide a LOUD voice and to fund special projects that are newsworthy and respected by allied professions.
17. Lack of data about curriculum/program content vs. employer expectations.
18. Chapter leadership development, funding, and available time to advance the profession at the local level (increased membership will strengthen our ability to grow).
19. Career discovery/public perception of LA.
20. Engineers own Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program, low involvement by LA’s.

1. With more education and training from National ASLA, chapters can be more effective at grassroots messaging.
2. Global environmentalism and the increasing general interest in protecting our environment, being sustainable, living healthy lives and being more active overall in the physical environments we create, renew and design. We provide the pathway to proper environmental strategies.
3. Opportunities created by the new Center for LA.
4. A comprehensive branding and imaging campaign might help define the profession and finally simplify the question “what do LAs do?” Making sure the branding reaches to the state level.
5. Expanding use of social media to get our message out.
6. Pro-activeness in advocacy and using new technology.
7. Be on the forefront in providing solutions on environmental issues.
8. LEADING allied professions with LID and green infrastructure.
9. Bring content of LAM to other markets, legislators, schools, professional offices.
10. Opening our National EXPO to wider audiences to gain exposure, increase vendor participation, etc.
11. Develop programs, studies, and standards at the national level that help the local and state level LAs generate more revenue and increase capture of professional FEEs, as well as improve profit so that firms can invest in new technology, education, and participation in national ASLA.
12. Provide useful business data for members (e.g., advocacy, regional economics, impact the profession has on jobs, economy, growth, safety, health and wellness of the community).
13. Webinars for business training to share research data that can be used at the state level.
14. Local advocacy to require LA stamp on drawings. Requirement for LAs to lead park, recreation, trails, green infrastructure design projects, etc.
15. Making the case for SITES (i.e., how use of SITES has good return on investment).
16. Forming alliances with other organizations.
17. Expertise in native plants, pollinators, and Xeriscape.
18. Expand water quality concerns to watershed-level view, work with farmers, etc.
19. Civil engineers are embracing LID green infrastructure in a big way; make sure LAs LEAD GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE and are experts in the field.
20. Architects’ interest in “soft infrastructure,” i.e., parks and plazas (see April Architectural Record).
21. Representatives, political parties, looking to us if we’re correctly positioned.
22. Political climate renewing public interest in issues LAs have been advocating for. Make sure we take credit and speak louder about the renewed public interest.
23. Student/younger people more engaged in environmental issues.
24. Sponsor research about the profession and what industries feed into landscape architecture.

1. Potential for federal legislation that pulls back on gains made in environment, health, transportation, etc.; area of concern to LAs, including funding cuts.
2. Relatively small membership base lacks the clout or “numbers” needed to be taken seriously by legislators or general public.
3. Relatively small pool of money available to fund lobbying efforts, as compared with engineers and architects, particularly on the state level (and more acutely so for small chapters).
4. Difficult for chapters to maintain level of volunteer effort needed for advocacy.
5. The number of students enrolled in accredited landscape architecture programs continues to decline: 5,353 in 2016, down from 5,923 in 2013.
6. Economic downturn.
7. Changes in local, state, and federal regulations that would limit our ability to expand our influence, practice areas, and ability to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our client citizens, as well as DEREGULATION OF LICENSURE.
8. Science doubters and climate deniers fundamental threats.
9. Civil engineers embracing LID development/green infrastructure and also active transportation.
10. Competition from other professional organizations for dues and membership.
11. Lack of connection/synergy with academic organizations.
12. Lack of research and research funding about impact of the profession.
13. Other organizations and professions encroaching on parts of LA.
14. Professional societies with adversarial relationship to LA (e.g., mining, sand and gravel, Departments of Transportation (DOT), etc.).
15. Recreational trails programs administered by engineering-driven state DOTs.
16. Limited scope of practice in some states regarding storm water.
17. Abolishing/defunding EPA.

As we wrapped up our midyear meeting, I was personally impressed by our national organization; the strength as a profession; and the talent, effort, and financial investment we collectively have when we get involved and participate. One of the reasons allied professions have a louder voice locally and nationally is because of their membership base and the collective power that group has to generate funding and re-invest in their cause.

We absolutely must increase our membership to grow our profession. As I sat through all the meetings and participated in the advocacy training and activities, a comment from our President (Tina Gilman) kept coming to my mind: “YOU GET OUT OF ASLA WHAT YOU PUT INTO IT.” I’ve personally not had the volunteer time to invest in my position as Trustee for Utah, although my experience at the midyear meeting has helped me re-focus on my priorities and realize that if we don’t all participate in some way whenever or however we can, then we are missing out on some wonderful opportunities to grow our profession and take credit for what we are really doing in our state and local communities.

I personally encourage you to read through the SWOT analysis, let us know what your passionate about, and how you can help elevate or lead that feature. I’ve bolded the items I’m passionate about and hope to send out a survey monkey in the near future to see how we can use some of these ideas to advance our practice here in Utah.

We have a wonderful committed EXOM leadership team Please help us by staying involved, participating in activities, and most of all helping to encourage the other 50 percent of LA’s in UTAH to become full members of ASLA! Can you imagine what we could do with that much additional talent, and support!