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January 2008 Issue

Kalamazoo, Meet Generation X
A young designers’ charrette considers how to bring hip to the heartland.

By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA

Kalamazoo, Meet Generation X Courtesy of Landscape Forms

It’s Tuesday, September 11, at 4:00 PM. Small airplanes have touched down at the Kalamazoo, Michigan, airport, and about two dozen landscape architects are heading downtown. They are getting to know one another and finding out what (besides their chosen profession) they have in common. A few things rise to the top: They are handpicked, attending this event on the recommendations of their bosses. They are young, most right around 26, with a general average age of no more than 30. And they have little idea what exactly to expect—or, for that matter, what is meant by the event’s provocative title: The X-treme Landscape Architecture Design Challenge.

Tuesday, 6:00 PM

“We’ve done a number of designer roundtables,” says Bill Main, Honorary ASLA, “but we knew we were with a different crowd when the first people coming in here got carded.” Main is president of outdoor furniture company Landscape Forms. Main’s company is based in Kalamazoo and has, over the years, convened groups of practitioners to help it better envision the landscape (and, by extension, help it design better furniture for it). Those activities have resulted in a series of “briefs,” “white papers,” and “Market InSites”: sort of in-house articles that communicate the results of these brain trust discussions. Their most ambitious convocation, undertaken in association with the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), brought together more than 200 landscape architects in 15 cities in 2002 and 2003. The resultant document, “Creating the Built Environment,” is intended to spur continued dialogue about and greater collaboration on urban environments.

“Once we decided we could not possibly host one more roundtable event,” says Richard Heriford, also of Landscape Forms, “we decided to create an experience for the next generation of design professionals.” Heriford is speaking to a now fully assembled group, which includes the young participants, three well-known design team leaders, and a miscellany of city staff and volunteers, Landscape Forms personnel and hired marketing folks, and a few hangers-on (such as Landscape Architecture). Landscape Forms has again collaborated with the LAF to put on this design-focused event, this time also teaming with Downtown Kalamazoo Inc., a nonprofit group focused on bettering the city’s commercial core. That organization’s president, Ken Naci, hopes that X-treme Landscape Architecture will showcase Kalamazoo as a forward-thinking community, while giving these young landscape architects a chance to showcase their profession.

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