2014 was an uneasy year for most landscape professionals practicing in China. Once fast and furious, the market’s sudden slowdown has left well-adapted practices, both local and international, stumbling to regain their balance. This January, the government announced the country’s 2014 GDP growth of 7.4 percent, which was the lowest in 24 years, and the first year to fall behind the target. Private developers suffered from the policies regulating an over-heated real estate market and stagnant sales. Local governments struggled with heavy debt burdens from previous wasteful decades and became fiscally conservative, especially under the current anti-corruption campaign. When the major drivers of the building industry started to lose their momentum, the looming climate makes everyone wonder which direction this world economic powerhouse will be heading.
Let’s not forget that China’s slowdown is partially due to an increasingly large economic base, and there is still endless potential waiting to be explored. From my own observations, further densification in built environments, integration of stormwater management, and rural redevelopment might be several avenues worth noting for my fellow international landscape practitioners.
Large-Scale International Projects, in Theory and in Practice: Challenges & Opportunities for Landscape Architects
Yogi Berra had it right. He said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”
How does a very large and very complex project—1.5 kilometers long and more than thirty international consultants—get built?
Here’s the simple summary: there are three players. Number one: the owner—the owner has the money and property to develop the project. Number two: the consultant—the consultant does the design and engineering for the project. And number three: the contractor—he builds the project. Then the owner moves in and operates the project. Straightforward, right?
You may wonder what it’s like to work in the cradle of Western Civilization—the trading posts between the East and West, the Middle East and North Africa, and, for millennia, primarily a landscape of traders.
But first, we’ll start with something you may be more familiar with. Large nurseries like Monrovia, Keeline Wilcox and ValleyCrest often have rows upon rows of trees, shrubs and ground covers, each properly pruned, grown to near perfection and available in seemingly unlimited quantities in any size you want. Selecting plants there is the same as going down the breakfast cereal aisle in a large American grocery store—huge selections, multiple sizes of each, in massive quantities. Just like cereal boxes, the plants in these nurseries are labelled, well displayed, properly set out and all uniformly healthy. That sophistication and mastery of horticultural and logistics processes—integral to plant growth—is a spectacular achievement that some landscape architects never fully appreciate—until they worked with the pirate landscape contractors of the Middle East.
In the Western Region of Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, a large new town was under construction and street trees were part of the infrastructure work. That was the first time some landscape architects had seen—on a competitively bid, huge project scale—plants being grown in used, empty tin cans. Always rusting, the cans rarely even had drainage holes and were always stacked cheek-by-jowl to save on land rental costs. Plants were hand watered seemingly by chance. Pruning equipment? Just never around.
My two previous posts, Getting Started in International Work and Logistics of International Work—Part 1, dealt with preparing to work internationally. This post deals with the logistics of when you are in a foreign country and after you return. The previously stated caveat—that conditions vary greatly between countries, within countries, and over time– still applies, but this should at least give you a few things to think about.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
–Saint Augustine (AD 354 – 430)
My previous post, Getting Started in International Work, covered how to prepare for international work generally. This two-part addition covers logistical considerations for working in a foreign country based on my own experiences in Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and elsewhere. Conditions vary greatly between countries, within countries, and over time, but this should at least give you an idea of what to think about. I look forward to hearing other people’s experiences as well. Part 1 deals with the logistical issues before you go. Part 2 will cover issues relevant while there and after you return.
People interested in working internationally often ask how they can get started. The answer is a combination of preparation, risk, and luck. Part 1 of this three-part post covers six tips for getting started, and Parts 2 and 3 will include advice on logistical considerations for when you actually go overseas for work.
“…chance favors only the prepared minds.”
Many Americans are woefully unaware of the rest of the world. Before stepping off a cliff like The Fool in a Tarot deck, it is very helpful to become prepared in terms of languages, geography, politics, health, and finance.
In the 1970s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to relocate the international diplomatic community from Jeddah on the coast, to the capital, Riyadh, in the center of the country. This was to include not only all the foreign embassies, diplomatic residences and offices of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also all the residential, commercial, recreational and other support facilities that would make up a complete, self-sufficient neighborhood on the edge of the city of Riyadh. A German planning firm, Albert Speer and Partners, developed the master plan with Boedeker, Wagenfeld & Partners (initially Boedeker, Boyer, Wagenfeld & Partners) providing landscape architectural input.
Designing New Entrances for the Restored Emscher River Valley in Germany
In the student workshop “New Futures for the Emscher Area,” 43 German and American students created design concepts in close cooperation with the Emscher Water Management Association that highlighted the newly accessible river. Led by Dr. Michael Roth of Dortmund University of Technology’s School of Spatial Planning, the students explored how engaging entrance areas for the Emscher Valley could contribute to the revitalization of this previously industrial and uninviting area.
Without unnecessarily denigrating the general quality and value of landscape architecture programs and curricula in the United States, sometimes our teaching can be somewhat myopic. By extension, our students learn to inhabit a worldview that remains quite provincial as international and global influences advance exponentially.
So, on a brisk morning in February 2012, twelve students from the 3rd and 4th year landscape architecture program at North Dakota State University stood in the old Traleze slate quarries in Angers, France, a roughly one thousand acre site that has been active since the twelfth century.
The pervasive French history permeated the sensory and analytical processes of both our Midwestern U.S. students and their more familiar associates from Agro Campus Ouest University. This historical context for site inventory, and the project thesis for reintegrating this largely forgotten landscape into the urban fabric of Angers – introducing tram connections to the adjacent city, and carefully utilizing the lakes and their surrounding terrain as natural amenities for residential housing – required a degree of awareness and appreciation, a growing sense of sophistication that flowed like adrenaline through these students as they confronted landscape architecture in a much larger and more complex world.
This article could easily be written by a member of the International or Transportation PPNs, but the bicycle is becoming increasingly important in Land Use, so it is offered here to spark a discussion about the importance of alternate transportation in community design.
Living in Aspen, Colorado, cycling has become a part of our lifestyle. Whether it is mountain or road biking, trails and facilities exist to encourage even the most timid into this healthy recreation. In town, year-round cyclists, some with studded snow tires, regularly use cycling to get to work and run errands. So, it seemed natural in planning a trip to Spain (in a country where the famed Vuelta de España race ranks among the top three cycling events worldwide), to see what is happening with respect to cycling. Our trip therefore included a week of cycling through Andalucia as well as visits to Madrid and Seville, two cities that have gone far to develop car-free pedestrian zones. But how well do they accommodate cycling as an alternative mode of transportation and means of recreation? It turns out that these cities could not be more different in this respect, something that no doubt reflects the divergence among U.S. cities as well. In the countryside, some significant efforts are made for cycling safety on rural roads, and rails-to-trails is part of the program.
When most people think of tulips, they think of them originating from Holland, when in fact tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey4. Tulips noted by the Turks in Anatolia were first cultivated by the Turks as early as the 11th century2. The botanical name, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “turban”, which the tulip flower resembles. Many cultivated varieties of tulips were widely grown in Turkey long before they were introduced to European gardens in the 16th century and quickly became popular4. Although the Dutch Tulipomania is the most famous, the first tulip mania occurred in the 16th century in Turkey. Tulip blooms became highly cultivated, and coveted, for the pleasure of the Sultan and his followers. The Turks had strict laws governing the cultivation and sale of tulips; buying or selling tulips outside the capital was a crime punished by banishment3.
For landscape architects, professional practice and educational opportunities may include an international and multicultural focus and perspective. For example, the global focus of our Canadian neighbors to the north has been a consistent and influential presence in their history. Compared to many Americans, Canadians are often perceived around the world as more educated, with a greater interest in the activities and affairs of the various peoples across the planet. In the spirit of the profession’s growing interest in international perspectives, this article presents the perceptions of Russian, Chinese, and American landscape architects during visits to and activities in the various countries.