On the eve of the ASLA Annual Meeting in Washington DC this year, our newsletter is dedicated to International Practitioners—professionals who are making a difference in countries throughout the world. The legal and environmental regulatory landscapes outside of the United States can be vastly different. In some instances these can allow designers the opportunities to take more risks and the freedom to explore their craft, but there is always a responsibility to demonstrate restraint and maintain professional standards. In less regulated settings, the standards to which we have become accustomed in the United States may not be met when considering the depth and probity of the analysis, and the implementation and quality of the final product. Due to the land reforms taking place in other countries, opportunities continue to surface in spite of the risks and challenges of language, cultural reference, and in some cases, compensation. My experience in Shanghai, China was a personal and professional revelation.
It was “personal” in the sense that my entire professional experience up to that date was based outside China. But although the setting was foreign, I discovered that the drive and hopes of the people are universal. I saw the future in the people who were working around the clock to modernize their country. Farmers, masons, and craftsman from all over China came to find work—building skyscrapers using bamboo scaffolding, settling their families in makeshift towns adjacent to the project site—and seeking what we all desire: a better way of life. I could see in their eyes that they wanted to improve their station in life as well as build a better China. They were proud to be part of the machinery creating the emerging economic dynamic of modern China. I wondered if I was bearing witness to the same energy that the United States must have experienced a century ago when immigrants from throughout the world came here to find a better life, and in the process build a better place to for all of us to live.
My experience in China was also “professionally” revealing. Shortly after he opened an office in China, a personal friend asked me to design the public realm for a large project on which he was working. I jumped at the chance and took a month-long vacation. I worked in collaboration with Chinese architects on designing a small city in only a matter of weeks. The time compression and site complexity was amazing. It felt like a four-week “charrette.” It was an electrifying event that forced me to react quickly and with precision to daunting challenges, and still retain my professional credibility by producing designs that address contemporary global environmental and conservation issues. This exciting, challenging, and rapid-paced design exercise had served to re-energize me and embolden my appetite for the next professional commission. Shortly after I left China, I relocated my entire family to another city, where I remain energized and inspired by the China experience.
I urge my fellow professionals, in this time of economic uncertainty, to seek out opportunities beyond the United States to expand your personal and professional experiences. I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming ASLA convention and sharing stories about your professional journeys and how the Landscape/Land Use Planning PPN can spark your interests.
Martin Flores, ASLA, is the Director of Urban Design and Planning at Rick Engineering. He can be reached at: email@example.com.