Are disasters considered opportunities?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Are disasters considered opportunities?

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    J. Nielsen


    With all the wildfires going on along the west coast, does this mean that landscape design jobs will start opening back up and we can expect firms start hiring again?

    Or is it too soon to be talking about that?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I can only speak from my own little area and my own niche. Two “disasters” have benefitted the niche that I work in.

    First is the boom in seal population on Cape Cod which has made a steady and fast growth in Great White Shark sightings and a few incidences in the last 8 years or so – this has raised a high demand for swimming pools. I am quite serious.

    Shockingly, COVID has created a boom on top of an already thriving situation. We are 3-6 hours from metro NY where a lot of very wealthy people live and COVID hit pretty hard. Many have summer homes here and escaped the city to work remotely in a safer environment. Some of them had a lot of amenities and some did not. Many others that don’t have second homes here realized their friends and associates had a good situation to be out of the city and enjoying life while they were shut in and now want the same in case it happens again. Still others had smaller places with few amenities and now want outdoor living in a big way. All the small CE offices are buried in work – much of it is to raze and replace homes on or near the water since there are no new lots to develop on the water. I am refusing an average of three pool with outdoor living jobs a week because I am too busy. I’m staying busy with the raze and replace waterfront homes.

    I don’t know the dynamics of the human behavior in the fire ravaged areas or the urban unrest in Portland, but I am sure there will be some people changing where they want to be and/or what they need out of their property. You just have to pay attention what people start doing – especially if there is any regional migration. I would be looking at where wealthy people are enjoying second homes – especially the areas that are not likely to have wild fires. There may be some movement of wealthy second homes toward “safer areas”.

    There are more residences in the world than commercial properties. I would say there are more residences of wealthy people than there are of commercial property as well. That should translate to more opportunities in the wealthy residential sector than other areas of the profession. This sector reacts faster to changes as well. I would go further to say that this sector is much easier to get involved in because there are so many, the projects are of shorter duration, and the projects are not controlled by a limited amount of elite firms – rather they are done by a lot of small local architects, engineers, and designers.

    The rest applies if you feel you have enough experience and knowledge to work on your own – look further below if you still feel that you need work experience with others. The tough thing about breaking into the residential market as an employee is that it is not difficult to operate as a single person firm, so there are not a ton of employment opportunities. Also, many are afraid that they are training a future competitor.

    If you find such a place and situation to target. Such places usually have review boards to help control how things are done. That is a big marketing help because you get seen by others doing similar projects if you present to such boards. Because there are a lot of small firms (architects, engineers, custom builders) serving the same demographic there are more doors to try to get your foot. If you get your foot in the door with an architect of engineer on one or two projects the others will soon learn of you.

    If you still feel that you need to develop more skills and you think you want to work the higher end residential niche on your own later I would suggest the most overlooked opportunity is to get into one of the small civil engineering firms that does a lot of work on those high end residences in an area where they are getting built. Drafting positions in such firms are hard to fill with trained people – presumably, you have been trained on how to draw site plans in CAD. You are also not a threat to open a competing civil engineering office. Small offices don’t have pigeon holes. They will want you do do as much as you can handle which means your skill set will develop quickly.
    You will see who the players are outside of the CE office and where opportunities are out there. You’ll see how other landscape architects are doing things in that particular market – which you may want to follow or you might see that if you did something different it would give you a competitive advantage. You’ll see and maybe participate in going through the regulatory boards. You’ll learn the local zoning and other regulations whether you want to or not.
    The big thing is that instead of being one of a couple of hundred trying to get into one of a few LA firms that they all want to be in, you’ll be one person with a good skill set looking at many CE offices that are not the first places that people with CE degrees are looking to work at.

    J. Nielsen

    Thank you for the thought out response. I am 120 miles from Portland and not really affected by what is going on with the unrest there, beyond the exodus of people that are leaving the city for the suburbs and semi-rural surrounding communities.

    Wildfires, on the other hand are affecting me big time. As I type this, the AQI is in the 500s and it is not safe to go outdoors for any long periods of time. This will be a temporary measure as the fires will extinguish eventually, is the aftermath there will be a need to rebuild.

    Currently I am staying occupied doing short term gigs on UpWork and PeoplePerHour, much of which is overseas work. I’d like to get involved with more local work, within my own time zone. I believe that the tempo is going to go from stagnant due to the quarantines to full throttle soon. My sense is that with whole communities destroyed that the local firms are about to get overwhelmed. I do not want to come off as an ambulance chaser, but it seems that this fire season has presented the opportunity. Six months of sitting on ones behind at home would make anyone jump at the chance.

    I guess real question is how to navigate the way forward. How does one even broach that subject with city planners and managers that have just lost their tax base and know that the FEMA dollars are a limited and finite resource.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    My mentality is to harness energy that already exists rather than trying to force something. If you pay a lot of attention and observe where the energy is or more importantly where it starts to grow.

    An analogy is to put your mill wheel where the river is flowing. Recently, all the good mill sites were filled so there was no place to put your wheel. Events like these change the course of rivers and streams. Pay attention not to what people think should happen, but what is actually being built, where it is being built, and who is involved in the process – those are the rivers and streams. That is where you want to put your wheel. Also, don’t dwell on the notions that they plant in us at school that you should change how things are done to make sure you are included – that is the same as trying to re-route a river. Look at how it IS being done and look to fit into that naturally flowing stream.

    Bottom line: Go with the flow.

    J. Nielsen

    To go with the flow, one has to know where the river is located.


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