LANDbytes: Clear Communication

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

Clear communication is tough. Have you ever sent what you think is a carefully crafted email to someone and later found that the reader got a totally different message? Crowded days, media saturation, and short attention spans all make it difficult to communicate, especially to a diverse group of people. Contractors, consultants, clients, municipalities, co-workers all need to have a clear idea of what going on in a project, but each one of them will read the message in a slightly different way. If someone gets the wrong meaning, it can quickly turn your project into a mess of emails, phone calls, and costly delays.

At the recent National ASLA Public Awareness Summit we learned how to promote landscape architecture as a profession, but many of these points could be applied to day to day business. The ASLA hired public relations (PR) expert Cindy Powell, of CP Knowhow, LLC, to work with us for a year to increase our PR skills. The following is an excerpt based on her recent presentation.

Tips for better correspondence
1. Know your audience: if they are surveyors, realize they often leave the office at first light. Your email at 8am, asking them to locate the water line that day, is going to be too late.

2. Email subject line: make it short and clear. It’s a good idea to have the project name in the title so people can find it when they search for it in the future.

3. Greeting: get the name(s) right and get to the point quickly.

4. Remember the 5 W’s: who, what, where, why, and how.

5. Use bullets: people can get to the details quickly.

6. Call for action: if you need them to do something, let them know when and how. Be specific.

7. Check your spelling.

8. Take a moment to proofread.

These tips are not conclusive, but they are a basis for better communication in the workplace. During the next year, I will relay some portions of what we learned last weekend. While I am the Oregon representative for public awareness (telling the public about landscape architecture), I can’t promote our work alone. I need help. The more we, as landscape architects and designers, practice these PR skills in the day-to-day, the better we will represent landscape architecture as a profession.

LANDbytes: Letter from the President

By Mauricio J. Villarreal, PLA, ASLA – OR Chapter President

Accolades for OR ASLA! We ended 2014 with a smashing success holding one of the largest Design Awards Soiree in our chapter’s history and benefiting from ASLA’s selection as the third in a series of guides focused on sustainable American cities. “The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland” illustrates why our community is viewed as a model of sustainability and consistently ranks high on the livability charts. An amazing labor of love from the ASLA and local landscape architects, the guide illustrates our passion for environment and innovation. Explore it yourself at

2015 promises to be just as memorable with an enthusiastic Executive Committee and a talented group of volunteers dedicated to raising awareness of our profession. We are committed to the Chapter’s legacy of sharing our collective knowledge, serving as stewards of our environment, and promoting the collaborative spirit of the Oregon’s design community.

This year, we should be mindful in reaching to fellow colleagues in related professions to join us for an exchange of ideas at the annual meeting. Developments are underway for the Livable Cities-themed Design Symposium. With global perspective, we should remain focused on Oregon, exploring conditions and opportunities for sustainable development and mobility, robust and diverse communities and civic engagement, resilient economy, and protecting natural areas while crafting vibrant and viable public open space.

With you in mind, the emerging professionals + Student Liaison committee, education + professional development committee, symposium + awards planning committee, and the fellows + honors nomination committee are also diligently crafting the social and educational calendar for 2015.

On behalf of the Oregon ASLA, thank you for your enthusiasm and support and looking forward to seeing you soon.

Mauricio Villarreal
ASLA OR – President

LANDbytes: The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

The ASLA has just unveiled a new guide in the “Landscape Architect’s Guide” series. In the past few years, we saw guides to Washington D.C. and Boston – this time Portland is the city under review. This time the ASLA decided to do something different; instead of dividing the guide up into geographic neighborhoods, the Portland Guide focuses on the elements of sustainability and the sites that best illustrate this within the Portland area. Eleven local landscape architects were chosen to explain why Portland is viewed as a model of sustainability and consistently ranks high on the livability charts. If you haven’t taken a moment to look through the guide, please do. It’s an amazing labor of love from the ASLA and the local landscape architects.

When you do explore the guide, don’t forget to share it with your friends and colleagues through email or social media. Whether you live in Portland or not, this guide is a great way to show the breadth of what landscape architects can accomplish – much more than just filling in the plant chart. One word of caution; before you do share this website with your friends outside the landscape architecture realm, take a moment to think about what you will say. I have been boring people left and right, all summer long, with the news of this upcoming website. Whenever I got a chance, I would chat about this new thing that landscape architect’s were doing. After the glazed eyes would clear, this is the question I heard most,

“why are landscape architects writing about this?” or “what makes landscape architects good people to write this?”

It’s a good question and one that you should be prepared to answer in a cogent manner. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland is a great way to open up conversations about design, ecology, and landscape architecture. Make the most of it – be ready to talk about landscape architecture.

Explore The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Portland

LANDbytes: Quarterly Report

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

Three years ago this month, Christopher Olin, Ben Johnson, and Rebecca Wahlstrom began monthly ASLA LANDbytes articles, “Oregon Chapter’s premier e-publication showcasing articles, briefs, reviews, spotlights and more!“ Happy Anniversary!  Beginning in August, LANDbytes will move from a monthly format to a quarterly publication, thus allowing members of the Oregon design community to have time to write about what is happening in their part of the state. We want to hear from you! Please tell us if you have found some new CAD tips and tricks or discovered a great resource of information. Have you run across a persistent problem and want people to know and respond to it? Do you have something wonderful happening in your area?  Write about it! Consider LANDbytes as the quarterly report on the state of design in Oregon; letting people know what is happening in each of the sections across the state.

This is your chance to speak up and be heard, so take advantage of this opportunity. Student, designer, or landscape architect…the more voices we have lending wisdom and experience, the stronger our community will become. LANDbytes will be published in January, April, July, and October, and articles are due on the 15th of those months.  There is no prescribed length, but do keep it concise for the busy ASLA readers.

Please send any ideas/articles to We are looking forward to hearing from you soon!

LANDbytes: What’s Happening at ASLA

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

Your Oregon Chapter ASLA executive committee has been working hard since last fall to provide learning and networking opportunities for its members. The current committee’s year started soon after the election by quickly gearing up for the 2014 spring symposium. Anyone who has been a part of symposium organizing realizes just what a lot of work this entails and just how many people are needed to make the event a success. After the well-received symposium was over, the executive committee took a collective breath and took a short break from event planning. Read the event recap here;

The executive committee was not destined to rest for long, the national ASLA office sent a message in early spring asking if the Oregon Chapter was willing to take on the latest online “Landscape Architects Guide” tour. After some discussion, the brave group said yes, making Portland the first west coast city to be explored through the eyes of the ASLA. The guide will be looking at the different design elements that have made Portland known across the nation for its sustainable choices (Water, Transportation, Food, etc). Be on the lookout in the fall for the final results! If you want to see the existing tour guides for Washington, D.C. and Boston, check it out here; D.C. and Boston

The executive committee is getting involved in the community in other ways; the EP group and Urban Green have both spearheaded numerous events and activities that get landscape architects and designers out into the public realm and talking to one another. The Urban Green series has an added bonus that licensed practitioners can earn PDH credits at many events. If you want to be aware of upcoming EP or Urban Green events, please check the website for updates and be sure to get on the email list. EP page: Urban Green events:

This past month, Melinda Graham, Mauricio Villarreal, Brian Bainnson, and Robin Lee Gyorgyfalvy went to Washington D.C. to meet with other leaders in ASLA chapters across the nation.  This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from the successes (and failures) seen in other chapters.  It is also an opportunity to lobby policy makers and promote the landscape architecture on what is affectionately known as “Lobby Day” …if you ask nicely, they just might show you their picture with Jeff Merkley.

By May/June, the executive committee was already starting planning for the fall Design Awards Soiree. Again, many details and many people all exert a concerted effort to put on a great event which will celebrate the design achievements of Oregon landscape architects and designers. Get ready for another great party this fall!

Around this time, there are also elections to the vacant seats in the executive committee; the executive committee is interested in hearing nominations for the vacancies. Some readers might laugh or cringe at those words, but serving on the ASLA executive committee is a great way to give back to the Oregon design community and a chance to make a difference in our profession.

If you see any of your ASLA Oregon Chapter Executive Committee members, please give them a high five for all the work that they are doing on your behalf. The committee members are:
Melinda Graham, ASLA – President
Mauricio Villarreal, ASLA – Vice-President
Kurt Lango, ASLA – Immediate Past President
Claudia Sims, ASLA – Secretary
Gill Williams, ASLA – Treasurer
Amy Cooney, ASLA – Vice President Chapter Services
Robin Wilcox, ASLA – Vice President Member Services
Brian Bainnson, ASLA – Trustee
Brigitte Huneke, ASLA – Student Chapter Liaison
Renee Wilkinson, ASLA – Communications Chair/Member at Large
Arthur Graves – Education Chair/Member at Large
Jesse Stemmler, ASLA – Mt. Hood Section Co-Chair
Rachel Hill, ASLA – Mt. Hood Section Co-Chair
Robin Lee Gyorgyfalvy, FASLA – High Desert Section Chair
Justin Lanphear, ASLA – Willamette Valley Section Co-Chair
Arica Duhrkoop-Galas, ASLA – Willamette Valley Section Co-Chair

That is, give them a high-five if you can catch them as they prepare for the next ASLA adventure – the Oregon Chapter Executive committee are a busy bunch of professionals.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you can get involved and more about membership, please check out the following information:
Visit the ASLA Membership Page!

LANDbytes: Oregon 2050

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

Way back in the early part of this century, development was booming and projects were being built in record numbers across the country. Then came 2008 and many projects came to an abrupt end with the economic crash. In that same year (during some of their unaccustomed free time), a collection of Fellows from the ASLA, APA, and AIA came together and started talking about the future of Oregon in terms of livability and overall health. They recognized that the landmark policies that have made Oregon a better place to live were vital, but they also saw that landscapes and needs can rapidly change. It was time to renew efforts to sustain and improve aspects that make Oregon a healthy and vibrant place to live.  To better understand the Oregon 2050 objectives, I asked two of the leading Oregon 2050 proponents, Carol Mayer Reed, FASLA and Brian Campbell, FAICP a series of questions. Read on to find out what they have to say about the future of Oregon through “enhancing livability, prosperity and sustainability”.

1. Why was ‘Oregon 2050’ created and who is this effort meant to include?
Brian: Oregon 2050 grew out of a bi-state, multi-organizational effort over the last few years to address the major challenges of our time: climate change, economic stagnation and inequity, natural resource crises, and political gridlock. The Northwest Livability Challenge made up of representatives of planning, urban design, landscape architecture and architecture held a number of local, regional and national conversations among professional groups to articulate a set of long range goals and along with actions to achieve them. We also felt that the only way to make progress towards these ambitious goals within Oregon would be to form an Alliance among like-minded organizations that could help change how the public thinks about these major challenges and what is necessary to address them. Ultimately we need to challenge the “public will,” and pressure decision makers at all levels to confront the seriousness of our situation head on. Creating the Oregon 2050 Initiative and Alliance is our best opportunity to create an Oregon we all can be proud of in the future.

Carol: While this movement initially started with a few Fellows of the APA, AIA and ASLA, it is now growing to encompass non-profits such as health and environmental organizations.

2. There are five goals that are central to your vision; “1. Reduce climate change vulnerability and enhance natural system health. 2. Progress toward a productive, inclusive and sustainable economy. 3. Extend efforts to create a healthy, informed and equitable society 4. Renew and deepen efforts to make vibrant cities and towns 5. Reinvigorate and reshape our systems for increasing civic engagement and cultivating leadership and effective governance.”

At first glance, readers might step back and say think that it is all well and good, but how can landscape architects ever do all this?
Carol: The great news is, we are collaborators by nature and our work has an important role to play. Yet much of what we do must relate to a higher regulatory framework such as zoning and land use for example. Landscape architects plan and design the public realm and private work that that directly affect the quality of life. We are a key part of shaping our communities and protecting natural resources by designing social infrastructure, walkable neighborhoods and the physical places that people inhabit. Almost every part of what we do should be considered for its contribution to and support of the overall Oregon 2050 goals.

3. How do you see this vision becoming reality?
Brian: Right now we are focusing on building an Alliance of organizations, and have not yet figured out how we can incorporate individuals into this effort. But this is very much a work in progress and once we have some “capacity” (i.e. people and money) to carry this program to the next level, then we can develop a strategy for communications and awareness and build a movement to carry it out.

Carol: We need to collectively exert more influence at the governance level of our state down to the grass roots level. Unlike the “Occupy” movement that seemed to lack definition, our goal is to provide more understanding of the issues while identifying specific actions in order to achieve positive results. But we certainly can’t wait for Oregon 2050 to figure it out and tell us what we need to do. For example, how do we reinforce the value of the land use laws we already have in this state and not take them for granted? I think it is up to all of us to constantly pay attention and consider the various ways we can advocate for, design and build livable communities.

4. The ASLA Oregon Chapter Executive Committee recently voted to support the Oregon 2050 vision – what does that mean for your group?
Carol: At the first level of the Alliance endorsement are the Oregon APA, ASLA and AIA. Then we have a list of other targeted signature organizations throughout the state. Since we, as landscape architects, already are involved in conversations about the issues, it was not difficult to explain the movement to the ASLA Executive Committee. Thank you for your endorsement!

5. When people read of your work and want to take part, how can they help support your efforts?
Carol: I think we need to keep these higher level goals in mind as we us address our daily challenges. At the scale of the built environment versus the larger planning level, we need to continue to advocate for the principles behind healthy, livable communities. How do we initiate these conversations with our clients and with the public? Sometimes we do this just one project at a time, and through public engagement or volunteer efforts. I think our recent Oregon Chapter symposium, Intervene, is an excellent example of how we, as landscape architects, have such thoughtful discussions among ourselves. But we need to be prepared to apply these ideas with others outside the profession in order to effect change.

Find out more about Oregon 2050 here!

LANDbytes: The Saudi Water Cycle

By Rachel Hill

I went to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to help design a waterfront park that is being created as a public central seed for a “new city” with the catchy name “Jazan Economic City”. The concept of originating this wholly new place based spatially around a shared public green space seemed progressive and quite radical for Saudi Arabia – a place where relatively recent and immense oil wealth has generated cities of walled compounds and exclusivity. Coming from water wealthy Portland, I expected to see and feel the difference of working in an arid environment. We know water in its presence. Arid land places understand it through its absence. Saudi Arabia is an interesting hybrid, where wealth can buy its presence, but at what cost?


The city of Jeddah flooded a couple of years back. Twice. With serious consequences. Even in sandy, coastal Jeddah, the city was built like an ice cube tray with impermeable surfaces coating every bit of ground. Concrete walls “protect” villas and curbs are built over twice the height we typically use in the US to prevent the ubiquitous impatient driver from hopping it and driving on the sidewalk to avoid traffic. During the flood, these streets filled up. Hummers and Ferraris floated through the streets. Tragically, over one hundred people died.


The rest of the year it is what you imagine it to be – an arid place where if you can see soil (which is tough to find between massive development projects), you’ll see a sandy, rocky earth. Plantings sit on mounds, their slope pitching to the streets so that any water that falls will drain towards a concrete drainage channel. And then there’s the Red Sea – calm, highly saline, turquoise blue with a tide that is hardly measureable. Corals sit serenely just under the surface and with little to no recreational tourism (most tourists are pilgrims and there is very little domestic tourism). The only time it sees any turbulence is when fresh water comes streaming down from the high mountains, diverted in numerous dams built in its apron, contained many times in its travels into concrete lined channels that fill with trash. This fresh water is dumped like the garbage it contains, into the sea on those couple of days when rain freshens things up around the city.


While this is happening, water is pumped from the sea into desalinization plants that sit on the coast, leaking smoke day and night. The two largest smoke stacks in Jeddah compete with King Fahd’s sea geyser, the largest water cannon in the world at 853 feet that sits in the Jeddah harbor. The sea cannon pumps water into the sky – the smoke stacks pump smog.

smoke stacks

Thus the Saudi water cycle begins with petrol, pumped from the earth, that is burned to turn sea water into potable water. Clouds of smog puff into the sky. The water is then dispersed to the city where it often flows through irrigation tubes to feeder heads that spray it onto barely surviving vegetation that is boxed into tiny cut out punctures in tile, granite and concrete. Any precipitation that falls naturally is channeled to a drain to the sea. And the water cycle continues.

Saudi urbanites moan and groan that they want a lush, green city. Revered landscape architectural projects have serpentine paths through lush lawns. Small mounds of irrigated turf planted with palms look like a bad hair transplant in the middle of roundabouts. People yearn for Central Park, a British garden or a French par terre. One Saudi colleague told me that they are a night culture because there is no shade to relax in during the day. What they want and what they have to work with are sometimes incongruous. But they don’t have to be. The feeling of “lush” does not translate always to a tropical garden or European park.


And yet every drop of water that falls on the city of Jeddah is whisked away, seen as a nuisance in its natural form, re-gathered, anesthetized and put into tanks and tubes such that it is deemed useful again. Less than a century ago the Bedouins searched for and revered the oasis. The absence of water made it sacred. Travelers followed the wadi – a stream bed that fills with water only during rain events. Date palms surrounded oases that became settlements. These are concepts that modern Saudis remember more and more as lore.

As a landscape architect working in Jeddah, our job was often interpreted as “greening things up”. It felt equally as important to help interpret what “green” means in arid Saudi Arabia, and to those who want to emulate western models of modernity, using landscape as a mode of communication of prestige. The country is at a critical point where population growth, incredible wealth, and the planning and engineering that are responding to it are on a fast track to shaping (in mostly detrimental but also in positive ways) the future of the country. Its recent past of walkable, dense cities with vibrant markets and the natural genius loci of high, rocky mountains, migrating dunes, acacia trees and cultivated date palms are majestic and important to protect, both for the natural and cultural identity of the country. Landscape architects have a unique perspective in understanding how environmental and sustainability goals weave into public space. For me, never has our profession appeared more vital.

LANDbytes: Career Discovery

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

Every year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has a year-long theme; 2013 was the Year of Public Service, where chapters held events which provided benefit to a specific group or community. It was very successful with many chapters, including our own High Desert Section, participating. The theme this year is Career Discovery, which encourages chapters to increase outreach to a wide diversity of students and let them know about the landscape architecture field. The plan is that each chapter has a number of members who will commit to taking folders to local schools and show the kids just what landscape architecture is as a profession.

The word on the street is that the handouts look pretty great – image heavy and aimed to the middle school/high school grade levels. It is realized that there are other career programs aimed at this same age group. This particular outreach has two main goals; explain to the school children what landscape architects do, and to be more inclusive of people who have not traditionally practiced landscape architecture across the nation. Even if some kids are not interested, they will still have a chance to hear about work done for the environment and see creative ideas that help make our cities and neighborhoods more liveable. As we look to encourage young people to become landscape architects, let’s also continue working to make sure there are plenty of job opportunities and avenues for these new practitioners to pursue.

Some tips from the ASLA Public Awareness team include:
participate in local and national ASLA so you can connect to other professionals
– add landscape architecture projects to Google Maps
recognize the landscape architects at your work through email, newsletter, or social media if your company is a larger, multi-disciplinary firm
write to trade magazines to highlight new projects designed by landscape architects
organize a walking/biking tour that highlights LA designed places

Do you have inspiring stories to share with young students? Do you have connections to any of the local school programs? If you are interested in participating in the Career Discovery outreach, please let the members of the executive committee or myself know. Thanks in advance for being taking part in this new 2014 Public Awareness Campaign.  Be on the lookout for the new Career Discovery handouts – coming your way soon.  Let’s get kids excited about landscape architecture and continue to grow our profession!

Visit the ASLA Career Discovery Page!

LANDbytes: River Time

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

As a rower on a master’s crew team, I have been on the Portland portion of the Willamette River most times of the day and most times of the year. In the spring, fishing boats dot the river in clusters, moving between a slow crawl and a frantic rush to the next great fishing spot. When the fishing season ends there is a brief quiet time until the weather turns warm and the river really gets to be a busy place when kayakers, swimmers, rowing teams, water skiers, jet skiers, sailboats, dragon boaters, pirate ships, outrigger canoes, stand up paddlers, jet boat tours, and Portland Spirit tours, industrial barges, motor boats, and wildlife all want a part of the Willamette River.

With all this river action, one would think that there is a great deal of public access to the river. Not necessarily the case. The amount of public access to the river remains spotty at best. With the seawall, industry, and private land covering much of the river edge in Portland, the public has little option other than to crowd to the remaining access points. Trying to get a rowing shell out on the water on a sunny afternoon requires a certain amount of determination and loss of reason. The one major public dock in the downtown area becomes standing/sprawling room only with people wanting to get next to (or in) the water. The shallow access under the Hawthorne Bridge becomes a spot for people to wade in and little kids to throw sticks in the water. People try to pick their way through the rip-rap on the west shoreline along the concert bowl, looking for access. Tourists lean on the seawall railings and look down at the water like they would really love to be there, but can’t figure out how. Whether you are of the opinion that the river going through downtown is filled with contaminants or not, these people want to interact with the water.

How can we, as landscape architects, get the public safely to the water? Not just gazing at it from afar, but actually get people to the water. The development around the river shore in the Portland area is intense and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of flex, but I wonder if clever landscape architects, working together with water enthusiasts and the city, can figure out how. The more people who can connect to our natural surroundings, the more likely they will care about preserving the natural spaces in Oregon. After all, that is a large part of what we do as landscape architects; preserve places, rebuild environments, and re-connect people to their surroundings.

See you on the river.

LANDbytes: Favorites

By Rebecca Wahlstrom

I always think it is interesting how people tie places, feelings, or attitudes to plants; one type of plant can instantly transport a person to a happy memory, while another will only remind one of gas stations. In honor of Valentine’s Day I thought I’d write an article about feelings and plants. Once again, I turned to my facebook friends to answer my question; what plant or flower do you see as the most romantic and why?

The facebook friends did not disappoint – while there was no clear ‘winner’, there was a clear sense that favorites were ones that were connected to good memories. Plants that had a lovely scent were particularly popular, one said that the sweet smell of daphne meant that spring was just around the corner. Another remembered that her mother would collect these sweet blooms as small bouquets and place them around the house. Evening primrose reminded another of warm summer nights. Lilies, gardenias, pansies, grape vines, lilacs, passionflower, orchids, and tulips all made the list.

So what does this all mean to landscape architecture? While our designs may not depend on the above mentioned plants, I think it is valuable to remember how people have such a connection of time and place to plants. Take a moment to think of a few plants and see if you immediately picture it in a certain place…junipers and barberry usually end up in parking lots and gas stations, ornamental grasses usually end up in urban settings, and daphne usually end up in a residential setting. For the most part, plants become popular in a particular setting because they have performed well in the past, although available nursery stock, budget, and design time constraints all are part of the mix as well. I wonder how much of the decision is based on our own categorization of what should be seen in a certain place; it would be interesting to see if some of these plants could move into new settings. To have someone come out of a downtown high-rise and catch sight of a plant that, for a moment, transports them to a more relaxed time and place. To have a more urban and spare look at a residence that might serve to be a calming influence on a hectic life. We all have our favorites (plants or materials); maybe it is time to see some favorites in a new way – to move some plants into unexpected places.