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Civic Space: A Public Practice Series

Example of a water quality pond in a tight urban site that has been improved to provide recreational and educational opportunities for the public in order to satisfy Parkland Dedication requirements.
Credit: Robynne Heymans, Austin Parks and Recreation

The realm of public practice, including non-profit and governmental work, offers unique opportunities and challenges to practitioners. Below, members of the ASLA Public Practice Advisory Committee share insights on their public practice careers.

Robynne Heymans, Associate ASLA

Park Planner, Austin Parks and Recreation Department (Austin, TX)

What is your role with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department?

My role in the Planning Division is to administer the Parkland Dedication Ordinance as part of the city’s development application review. I work with residential developers to dedicate and develop public parkland on private property in order to improve access to quality parkland for Austin’s growing population. As a landscape architect by training on a team of planners, I help navigate site-scale design details to create robust public spaces in dense urban infill lots. This entails negotiating the design of bundled community assets, such as park amenities that double as fire lanes, water quality ponds, and electric easements to maximize the potential for housing development and public recreation on a site. I also participate in Bond and General Fund expenditure through parkland acquisition.

Did you have a preference for a public sector versus a private work when you were starting your career; or did other events shape your career decisions?

I started my career in private, small-scale garden design. I loved creating gardens with people, but quickly felt the limitations of private-sector work on larger social justice issues. I got a master’s in landscape architecture so I'd be better equipped to work in the public realm. I interned at the National Park Service during school and fell in love with the culture of public service. For me, working in the public sector is more fulfilling because I know the park spaces I help develop are not inhibited by a barrier to entry.

Do you feel the public at large draws a distinction between publicly and privately funded and directed projects? Do you see the lines between public open spaces and streetscapes being blurred by open spaces associated with private developments?

This is a really interesting question. A lot of the urban park spaces we create through the parkland dedication ordinance read as private, high-end parks and are privately maintained. However, these spaces have public park easements or deeds on them which is coupled with signage that invites the public in. This partnership ends up benefiting all parties; the parkland serves as a powerful marketing tool for the developments and contributes to increased retention and occupancy rates, and the public benefits from a high-quality public park amenity that improves quality of life and walkability of their neighborhood. I think the blurred line between public and private open spaces only works to elevate the value of open space for the general public. The more access the public has to experiencing these types of spaces, the better equipped they are to advocate for quality public park spaces in their own neighborhoods.

What volunteer leadership roles have you held with ASLA?

Before joining the Public Practice Advisory Committee, I served as the Student Chapter President at City College of New York and then as the Student Representative to the Board of Trustees as Chair of the Student Advisory Committee (2018-19).


Theresa Hyslop, Associate ASLA

Project Manager & Landscape Designer, ETM Associates, LLC (New York, NY)

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?

I had a preference for private firms that specialize in public projects when I was starting to look for jobs after college, but was open to private or public work to gain experience in the field of landscape architecture. Luckily I found a firm a few months after graduating that does mostly public sector work, and still work for that firm today.

What notable challenges have you had through your career?

Our firm specializes in public space management, including how public parks and open spaces are cared for, programmed, and otherwise managed. Parks departments at all levels around the country have been facing budget cuts, making it difficult to effectively maintain and activate their parks. It has been a common challenge across many of our projects to figure out how to balance design aspirations with financial and staff realities, while still creating a fulfilling amenity for the community. We have used various strategies ranging from using low-maintenance materials to establishing new public-private partnerships.

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Heartland of America Park, Missouri Riverfront Revitalization, photo credit OJB Landscape Architecture.


Om Khurjekar, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP BD+C, Committee Chair

Principal, Hord Coplan Macht (Baltimore, MD)

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?

The way my career unfolded after coming to the United States for my graduate education in landscape architecture, my internships were at private firms, and that set up my career path. However, our firm is a multidisciplinary practice, with a focus on a variety of market sectors, one of which is public parks. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in many significant public park projects and collaborate with landscape architects and designers in the public sector. 

What was your career path leading into your current role?

For me life has evolved in a very unusual way and for better. Before coming to the United States for graduate education, I worked as an architect with a renowned architecture and planning firm in Pune, India, focusing on private residential and institutional projects. Originally, I came here for graduate education in architecture, but some interesting events led me to switch to a major in landscape architecture. It was always my dream to be able to have the knowledge of both, and so this was the perfect opportunity. After completion of my master’s in landscape architecture, I interned at a couple private firms and was fortunate to find a full-time position at Hord Coplan Macht. The firm culture, its design focus, project types and most importantly the people, are the reason for my long tenure and personal growth in the firm; from intern to partner / principal. On a parallel track, due to my passion to serve the profession and the support from my firm, I have been involved in ASLA since 2002. I served as MDASLA Chapter President, President of Chapter President’s Council of ASLA, public awareness representative, and currently Trustee of the Maryland Chapter. That pretty much sums it all up!

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Greenbriar Local Park, Potomac, MD, Hord Coplan Macht with MNCPPC. PC: Jennifer Hughes Photography

Kevin Meindl, Associate ASLA

Landscape Architect and Green Infrastructure Program Manager, Buffalo Sewer Authority (Buffalo, NY)

What is your role with the BSA? What was your career path leading into your current role?

I lead the planning, design, and construction of green infrastructure for the City of Buffalo, New York, bringing together multiple funding sources to implement green infrastructure in innovative and equitable ways that maximize co-benefits. 

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?

I was very much interested in public practice when starting my career. During my time in graduate school, I explored the urban and regional planning department and ended up getting a second master’s degree in regional planning to compliment my masters degree in landscape architecture. I worked for a little while in the private sector, but really wanted to take more of a project lead role. I have been fortunate to guide the future of my hometown and work with so many landscape architects along the way.

Do you feel the public at large draws a distinction between publicly and privately funded and directed projects? Do you see the lines between public open spaces and streetscapes being blurred by open spaces associated with private developments?

The public may not know which projects are publically funded versus privately funded, and there is often a mix of both on brownfield redevelopments and other sites. Open spaces associated with private development can enhance the overall streetscape and place of an area if done thoughtfully. Within the City of Buffalo, the majority of land is privately owned, and this provides a tremendous opportunity to compliment public projects.

3rd-photo-buffalo-730Overview of city-wide implementation of green infrastructure in Buffalo, NY. Image: Kevin Meindl 


Darcy Nuffer, ASLA

Landscape Architect, Planning Division of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department (Austin, TX)

What is your role with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department? What was your career path leading into your current role?

I work with community stakeholder groups, direct park masterplans, and design playgrounds and nature play spaces. Previously I designed stream restoration and green stormwater infrastructure projects for the City of Austin, and before that worked on developing the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) rating system with the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. I have also designed landscapes in private practice in San Francisco, Houston, and Austin, specializing in sustainable landscapes and environmental restoration.

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?

In the beginning I only thought about work in the private sector. But as my career progressed and I began working on more public projects, I became increasingly intrigued by the complexity of public work.

If you have worked in the private sector on public realm projects and also worked directly as part of the public sector, what have you found to be significant differences? Has anything surprised you?

It surprised me how much planning and coordination with internal and external stakeholders takes place before a project is even scoped for a private sector consultant. To me this is a really exciting and creative part of the job.


Jennifer Shagin, ASLA

Redevelopment Support Specialist, Fort Collins Urban Renewal Authority (Fort Collins, CO)

What is your role with the Urban Renewal Authority (URA)? What was your career path leading into your current role?

My focus is to manage URA Board practices and protocols; coordinate between the URA, Economic Health Office, and City Manager’s Office; and work with cross-departmental teams to promote affordable housing in alignment with city council priorities. Before joining the City, I was an elected official for the Town of Berthoud where I self-managed and ran my own campaign—receiving the highest number of votes in Berthoud’s history. As an elected official I advocated for multi-modal transportation in small communities, aided in the creation of the Berthoud Life Center, and was strategic in bringing Berthoud’s financials to better health, which helped hire a new Town Administrator.

I have also worked as a private-sector landscape architect and land planner where I completed various projects of differing magnitude across Colorado and Wyoming. Highlights of my projects include senior affordable housing, design standards creation and adoption, and environmentally sensitive design. On the federal level, I have worked on trail and travel management crews, and Visitor Information Services (VIS) where I worked to educate the public on forest ecosystem health and sustainable practices.

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?

Personally, I have a deep appreciation for both realms. Initially, I became a landscape architect to design public parks and increase nature within urban environments.

What notable challenges have you had through your career?

I have had a number of challenges. My career started when most of the country was still in the midst of the Great Recession, and jobs were very hard to come by. Another challenge that I have had throughout my career is emotional connection to land. Development and conservation have a strong polar relationship and it is often very difficult to strike the exact balance between development and conservation.


Andrea Weber, ASLA

Program Manager for Historic Roadside Properties at the Minnesota Dept of Transportation (MnDOT) (St. Paul, MN)

Did you have a preference for public sector versus private work when you were starting your career, or did other events shape your career decisions?


Based on the importance of public parks in my life, I became a landscape architect to design parks! I worked in an architecture firm first out of school, but was fortunate to get a park design job in a growing suburb of the Twin Cities and built my career in public practice from there. It is so rewarding to contribute to spaces where people choose to build their lifelong memories.

What notable challenges have you had through your career?

People love “their” public outdoor spaces and one of the major changes I have learned in the profession is how to connect with the public and to provide meaningful and inclusive opportunities for public input in the design process.


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