Get me excited about an MLA!

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    Andrew Boyd

    Hello everyone,

    I was recently accepted into an MLA program as well as a Masters in Public Policy for Science and Environment.  I think my heart is in LA, but I really want to do whatever will make the biggest possible difference for the environment.  I am looking for large-scale, positive interventions to get me excited and convinced that you can do more with an MLA than building a pretty office park or mansion estate.

    Please help me get excited!

    Thank you!


    You can obtain huge perks, if you can develop into an efficient landscape architect. I think that the field of LA has huge earning potential, so if you are capable enough, you can easily get massive perks into your account in no time. 

    Rob Halpern

    That is, indeed, a tough choice. In the end, you’ll have only limited say in how much effect you can  have. A landscape architect in the right firm, who gets the right kind of work can make a big difference. But that same person may just as easily end up spending years designing new developments that merely replace Nature with “sustainably designed” pavement. Same for someone in Public Policy. It’s not the Major, its the path that unfolds from that choice. The easy path (and best paid) will probably lead to the worst impacts on the environment. So see if you are ready to not make the choices for salary or percs or fame but for

    whatever will make the biggest possible difference for the environment

    The best thing you can do to be certain you have a positive impact is to not have children. There’s no single bigger contributor to the demise of this planet and its species than more humans. Are you that committed?

    Will Kern

    First of all, LOL at Bob’s statement about kids. 

    Your dilemma is a no-brainer to me for a couple reasons I think. I began my schooling doing Environmental Sociology and realized the entire knowledge base is just rhetorical data gathering in order to influence the actual policy makers. In summary, I got very easily discouraged by the seemingly nonexistent amount of progress ever made and just the disconnection from the actual environment in general. 

    When I began LA, I was immediately inspired by the visual progress one can observe from project to project. As they’ve replied earlier, you can be subject to just doing some firm’s work or be stuck plastering sustainable concrete surfaces over corporate courtyards, but you could also get involved with restoration work. LA may not always be the BEST thing for the environment, but to me it was a give and take. You can restore unused and wasted urban areas to states that were definitely no worse than how they began. Or you could do restoration work for the national parks, preserving the natural state and designing to limit the degradation humans have on the naturally existing environment.

    Either way, in my opinion as an LA, we have direct responsibility of the land on the projects we decide to take on. We do have a choice. The land is going to get used one way or the other, we have a say as designers how that will be.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The biggest impact is made when YOU yield a different result than the PERSON YOU DISPLACE. Public policy is much less impacted by any single individual than is design work simply by the nature of how it comes about. A person designing on the land does not have total control, but is right at the point where the rubber meets the road.


    The next question is where can you make the most impact in terms of the type of work that you do. If you do pure restoration work as a stand alone activity, again, the project has been determined and funded and will go on whether your firm does it or someone else’s. In either case, the goal is restoration so the impact will most likely be similar no matter who does it.


    The point of most impact, in my opinion based on what I see happening in my world, is in mitigating the negative impacts of development. The person making the most impact in my area is an individual who has an MLA (not accredited) tried several ways to make a living doing environmentally friendly design, sat on Conservation Commissions, became a speaker on the subject, and turned it all to success by focussing in on environmental mitigation projects as part of the design teams for developing environmentally sensitive sites. In other words, he helps design portions of properties so that McMansions and other development can pass trough permitting and then his company makes a lot of money implementing that portion of the project. You might look at that as “coming over to the dark side”, but in all seriousness, this person is doing great volumes of work because it is in demand and that work is making these projects have less of a negative impact than they might otherwise ….. of course, they may not have been able to develop or re-develop those sites to the extent without his mitigation.


    Whether you think he is a champion for the environment or an enabler, there is no doubt that he is making a huge difference (and making a hell of a lot of money) as an individual environmentalist. The point is that in order to make a difference, you have to be in the position where the actual action is.


    This is where the built work has to match what the policy makers have put in place. They make the rules and then spend the rest of their time reviewing whether a project fits those rules or not and/or enforcement action when those rules are violated. …. lost in a sea of bureaucrats.   


    First I have to say that I believe the excitement has to come from within. If takes one of us to get you fired up perhaps you might want to rethink your career choice. Especially if you just think your heart is in landscape architecture. If you’re not bright eyed and almost hyper-ventilating about the prospect of being a landscape architect, you stand a slim chance of making it through the heart ache it takes to become one.  


    I’m not sure where you ultimately want to practice, but I must say that I’ve designed schools, office parks and estates in the Fairfield County (Connecticut) and it’s one of the most beautiful areas in the country. The streams, stone outcrops, wetlands, and other natural features alone were enough to get me excited regardless of the size of the projects.


    Building anything whether it is a hiking trail or big box retail store on virgin land has an impact. As others have touched on, if there’s enough demand a project will eventually be built. As an LA I get satisfaction knowing that my job is to design so that there is minimal impact on the site, if I can provide food and habitat for wildlife that makes it all the better.


    I suggest that you do a little more research on the profession then you wouldn’t need anyone to sell you on the profession. I’d bet with a simple Google search you’d be able to learn just how varied the profession is and you’d be able to sell yourself.


    Office parks and mansion estates, dude that’s a little offensive. Considering your still in the student phase, I think you would be wise to see if you will develop enough skill to design a backyard garden before you start making large scale “interventions”.  Whether you’re a good designer or not, it could be a long time before you leave your desk and work anywhere other than AutoCAD land, just giving it to you straight.


    Good luck in your studies.


    Nice last paragraph, Craig. Finally, you’re coming around and telling these delusional students the true profession of LA. How many designers and firms ACTUALLY work on these “large scale projects” that will save humanity and environment? This is the problem I have with the Universities. They are selling this boy the fantasy of this profession. I’ve seen more LAs and firms do damage to the environment than actually save it, because they need work. OMG, another person who wants to save the world! The U.S. President is the most powerful man on earth and the richest men on earth…can’t solve homelessness and many other worldly issues, but this guy can. Andrew, if you can land a job after graduation and make $50k, then consider that a success.

    Every month or so, we get a similar posting about someone seeking advice on getting a MLA and jobs outlook. I’m done wasting my time giving advice to these so-called great future designers who can’t even do the proper research on this site. Three years ago, I was advicing these same students who thought of a career in LA to go to another profession. Never heard from them again. Remember on how WE were debating this topic? The building/construction industry hasn’t improved much since 2009. Nothing like it was in 2006 and that will not return anytime soon.

    This LA profession pays you peanuts (just look at ASLA job listing at salaries), and the constant roller coaster people endure aren’t worth it. Unless you own or a principle in a firm, you’re pretty much on the chopping block if the business hits a snag. I’m out. Aloha.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I had to blink when I read Coordinates “you can easily get massive perks into your account in no time.” My perspective is that maybe you can CONTRIBUTE on large-scale projects IF you land a position within a LARGE firm. What exactly most impacts the environment will not necessarily be in project scale, and there is always a danger of large scale and negative.

    Leading in the realm of generating ideas that many people may pick up and replicate on countless small projects could make a bigger difference than piling up impressive portfolio contents anyway. I’m thinking about the movement we were discussing in another thread on school grounds design where the future generation’s consciousness is being formed. With public policy skills from the alternate Masters program, perhaps you could run or manage or promote some cluster or single operations such as examples below. It seems to be an emerging area and LA appreciation would fit in, even if “minus license.”



    There you go again mauiB with the silliness. I’ve told people interested in the profession about the pros and cons of being in it since day one. I’ve even told them that they might get an LA degree and never get a job as one in a good economy. Stop with the BS before I think you’re delusional.


    I do agree with you about the universities selling folks a bag of goods. Not all LAs are about saving the spotted salamanders and maintaining pristine forest. I think most of us try to take an ecological approach to land development.


    “Three years ago, I was advising these same students who thought of a career in LA to go to another profession. Never heard from them again.”

    Let me guess, you actually think you’re the reason why they haven’t returned to the site.


    You’re right the AEC industry hasn’t improved much since 2009, but I don’t look at 5 or 6 years as a very long time. Besides there will always be a demand for architects, engineers and LAs. Once we have no housing, schools and our bridges and roads turn to dust, the politicians will have no choice but to stop playing games and start funding the projects that we already desperately need.


    Yes, I do remember us debating this subject and I’ll tell you now like I told you then, we are not the only professions hurting because of the great recession/depression…read a newspaper.


    if youre even considering the Public Policy degree, LA is not for you. Do that one.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Thinking it through, NCA is absolutely right.

    Roland Beinert

    The MLA Program at U of Idaho was great, Andrew. There’s a coupon on the U of I department of landscape architecture website that lets you get two degrees for the price of one. So I got both an MLA AND a degree in planning! Also, everyone who gets into the MLA program is entered into a drawing to win a Prius and other prizes! I didn’t win the Prius, but I did get a Kona bike. Many of the classes I took focused on subjects like green infrastructure planning, urban ecology, sustainable development and bioregional planning. Since graduation I’ve been interviewed by nearly ten firms, several of them with real environmental ethics!
    Ah, the memories! Anyway, I hope that gets you excited about getting an MLA, and happy April 1st.

    Tosh K

    I do remember a time when nearly everyone at our program would sit on multiple offers at graduation. Oh the good ole days.

    Roland Beinert

    That post was an attempt at humor for April Fools day, Tosh. The idea was that Andrew should get excited about an MLA, because there were all these special offers he would not get with the other degree, like the chance to win a Prius. It seemed funny to me at the time, for some reason.
    I’ve actually only had two interviews in the entire year since I graduated, not counting the ones at the ASLA conference, which I requested.


    I Think there are lots of types of jobs that make great changes.

    Some are the big pretty photo-op projects that go on the cover of LA Magazine. These make changes in the world because they inspire people. If you want to be inspired pick up any ASLA magazine

    Others are the mundane but vital policy jobs that make incremental but meaningful changes- setting bylaws for building setbacks, or required green space percentages, etc. If you want to be inspired by this type of project visit your favorite city- downtown Savannah, or 16th Street Mall in Denver.

    Check out the Denver Aquarium- they take all the tank water that gets drained out and use it to replicate wetland habitats. 

    Bostons’ Big Dig is an LA project unparallelled- turning miles of freeway into public park! That’s inspirational. Or the HIghline Park in NYC which turned an elevated transit system into a green skywalk. 

    Adventure playgrounds are all the rage right now- inspirational environments for kids- the next generation of eco-warriors.

    I think your MLA degree will put you in contact with fascinating people and fascinating projects- projects that change.

    Have fun with it! I did.

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