Annual Meeting Highlights from Water Conservation

Boston's Public Garden image: Alexandra Hay
Boston’s Public Garden
image: Alexandra Hay

Flying home from 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston,  my flight back to Seattle encountered typical Midwest winter weather in the Great Lakes area, perhaps the only large region in the US without an existential threat to their fresh water supply. My hours traveling gave me time to reflect on the Annual Meeting’s over a dozen sessions related to water conservation. Three education sessions plus our Water Conservation PPN Meeting are featured below, all of which reflect how the water conservation focus at the 2012 Phoenix conference remained high on the national agenda at the Boston 2013 conference. Below, you’ll find my thoughts on a project in San Diego, biophilic design, plus discussion among a dozen  leading water conservation professionals.

Whether you attended the Annual Meeting or could not make the trip to Boston this year, I’m happy to share a few highlights. Each session title is a link, providing more information about the presenters or subject of that session, so please take a look!

The WS-01 LARE Workshop and Review Session, on Friday, November 15 from 8am to 5pm, attracted 58 candidates. During the workshop, the next wave of future licensed landscape architects learned about the fundamentals needed for passing the minimum standards exam. With an enthusiastic group, nearly every state was well represented. As speaker, I always enjoy sharing insights about Section 1 on professional practice, and the Boston LARE session was my 5th presentation during 2013, reaching 125 candidates. Outgoing LARE Committee Chair Sara Katherine Williams, FASLA, was recognized for her long service and her next role as Vice President of Education.

SAT-B10 Designing for Water Scarcity: Experience from a Semi-Arid Landscape
Saturday, November 16 from 1:30pm to 3pm

The University of California San Diego (UCSD) housing project team provided a panel presentation featuring project architect, landscape architect, and sustainability expert. I picked this session among the dozen sessions on water to introduce and moderate, largely because the talented Spurlock Poirier design firm is distinguished within the San Diego area and UCSD is one of the best universities in the world, with 16 Nobel Laureates, among other distinctions. If we can’t get the “water” system right at the UCSD campus site, then the rest of the planet is probably  in serious trouble. The team provided an eloquent litany of slides firmly establishing California’s well-publicized water supply challenges, and the presentation developed a basic conclusion: too many people are living in Southern California today–the current population is well past the natural carrying capacity of the land based on water availability–and this project helps meet this higher demand albeit at marginally sustainable levels. The team responded, noting that cutting edge projects like the UCSD example define templates and lessons learned that are transferable to other sites.

General session on Biophilic Design: People and Nature in the Modern World
Sunday, November 17 from 8 to 9am

Dr. Stephen R.  Kellert of Yale University was noteworthy. The session reinforced several examples that design based on nature is sustainable, including the closing slide quote by Ian McHarg for parting inspiration. The High Point residential community in Seattle with a focus on its salmon-friendly water system reflects water management as a very high art and science. The session included a recent film clip showing how landscape architects are making a large difference within multidisciplinary project teams. Having listened to Ian McHarg speak as student, and then having served as senior associate at WRT as mid-level professional, it’s true McHarg and the WRT firm principals have served as thought leaders in nature-inspired design. My take away from Dr. Kellert’s session was an initial concern for a large number of landscape architects who have never met McHarg, as well as for those unfamiliar with William Roberts, John O. Simonds, and Dr. Robert Reich–all legendary giants who were very influential along my career path. While reflecting on the session’s topic, my colleagues Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, FASLA, principal at WRT, and April Philips, FASLA, are among today’s thought leaders, both releasing new books and speaking regularly on the timeless value of design with nature and the importance of water.

At our Water Conservation PPN Meeting, on Saturday, November 16 from 3:15 to 4:45pm, Laurie Beth Donnachie and I co-hosted the session, which attracted top water conservation professionals including Margaret ‘Peg’ Staeheli, ASLA, founder of SvR in Seattle, plus Jim Laiche, ASLA, of  the Toro Company , who provided our feature presentation on soil moisture sensors and evapotranspiration-based controllers delivering water savings in the range of 15% to 40%. The 14 attendees from across the US included academic researchers from Utah State and Texas A &M University faculty, main stream practice experts and conference speakers, technology experts, and graduate school researchers. Our attendee mix has been consistent over the past 7 years, proving that one primary member benefit of our annual meeting is broad based networking while hearing about practical best practices for water conservation. Many attendees were contributors to our 4 written blog articles in The Field and our 3 webinars during 2013, and several attendees are planning to contribute articles and technical webinars in 2014.

by Matt Mathes, Co-Chair of the Water Conservation PPN

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