ASLA’s Federal Legislative Priorities: Climate Change, Resilience, Equity, and Environmental Justice

Policy recommendations for the new Biden-Harris administration
ASLA released a set of policy recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration last month. / image: 2020 ASLA Professional Urban Design Award of Excellence. Dilworth Park. OLIN. Image credit: James Ewing / OTTO

Since the start of the new year, ASLA’s Government Affairs team has been abuzz, welcoming the Biden-Harris administration with a petition to have the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement, a comprehensive set of policy recommendations, and many other actions to ensure ASLA members are heard loud and clear. But you may wonder how ASLA sets advocacy priorities and focus areas in the first place. The answer: by listening to all of you, our ASLA members.

Through a nearly year-long process, ASLA’s Government Affairs team determines the Society’s federal priorities for the next two years. In April 2020, they surveyed the entire ASLA membership on federal and state issues ASLA members believed the Society should include in its upcoming agendas. ASLA received 2,372 responses to the survey, the largest number since the survey began and more than double the previous survey in 2018.

The Government Affairs team and the Government Affairs Advisory Committee (GAAC) then review, vet, and analyze the results to formulate a set of recommended legislative issues for the upcoming legislative session. The recommendations are presented to ASLA’s Executive Committee. Based on input from the Executive Committee and the GAAC, the Government Affairs team then presents this set of federal priorities for discussion with the Board of Trustees, before moving to the Executive Committee for the final review process.

ASLA’s Executive Committee endorsed the final Federal Priorities Agenda for the 117th Congress during their December 2020 meeting. With a new theme of Climate Change and Resilience and a focus on Equity and Environmental Justice, the following four issues underlie federal legislative priority areas:

  1. Parks and Recreation
  2. Transportation Planning and Design
  3. Water and Stormwater Management
  4. Housing and Community Development

The 2020 survey included specific questions on climate change policy and including landscape architecture in a Green New Deal. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with ASLA members strongly agreeing that climate change was important to them both personally and professionally. Additionally, ASLA members also heavily favor ASLA working to include landscape architecture in a Green New Deal.

Based on these questions and the ranking of the issues, ASLA Government Affairs and the GAAC changed the format for the ASLA Federal Priorities Agenda for 2021-2022 by creating a theme and focus through which the other underlying issue areas would be filtered. After being ranked the most important issue for the second cycle in a row, along with other survey feedback, Climate Change and Resilience was elevated to an overarching theme which all legislation and regulation ASLA works on should take into account. Additionally, based on the survey results, Equity and Environmental Justice were raised to a focus for ASLA Government Affairs. This means that all actions must be viewed through this lens and every legislative and regulatory effort must include a push for equity and environmental justice.

For several cycles, small business, historic preservation, and scenic issues ranked at the very bottom of importance to survey respondents, providing ASLA clear directives on policy issues the federal Government Affairs team will work on this Congress.

ASLA team members and the GAAC used the following elements to develop an effective federal policy agenda. It is unlikely that any issue will satisfy every condition; however, greater priority should be given to those meeting multiple ones in order to make the most strategic decisions regarding priority issues. The four filters are:

  • Landscape Architecture Expertise – landscape architects must have expertise that will allow ASLA and its members to play a leadership role on the issue.
  • Member Relevancy – the issue must be relevant to a broad swath of ASLA’s membership.
  • Federal Nexus – the issue must be one over which Congress or a federal department/agency has jurisdiction.
  • Timeliness – there must be reason to believe that the issue is likely to be on the Congressional or administration’s agenda in 2021-2022.

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