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Common Space: A Public Practice Series—Q&A with Jay Courtney, ASLA

Jay Courtney, ASLA, is a landscape architect and project manager with the City of Aspen Parks & Open Space. This interview was conducted by Jennifer Shagin, ASLA, Public Practice Advisory Committee Chair.

Background information about Jay Courtney:
Degree or degrees, and where and when earned: Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University
Employment history:
ISA Tree Climbing Arborist
Design Workshop, Aspen
Senior Designer: DHM Design
Current: Landscape Architect + Project Manager, City of Aspen Parks & Open Space

Number of years as an ASLA member: 5

Other affiliated professional organizations: PLA, LEED GA

Did you prefer public sector versus private work when you were starting your career; or did other events shape your career decisions?
I have always been attracted to public work even while working in the private sector. I like the idea of creating spaces that many people can enjoy and engage in. Creating detailed private landscapes with nice materials was enjoyable, but the impact you are making with those projects is more limited.
How did your education and training prepare you for what you do today?
My education helped inform me on how to approach design in a holistic way, looking at the bigger picture, considering opportunities and constraints of a project. It taught me the tools of the trade and the still ever important practice of hand sketching. My professional experience has taught me the importance of good cross discipline coordination, materiality and construction process, how to manage time and think about budget and design in tandem.  

While practicing as a landscape architect in the public sector and working with landscape architects or design teams from the private sector, what in your opinion are significant differences between public and private practice? Has anything surprised you?

The private sector often moves from project to project and is less invested in a specific project and sometimes just goes through the motions to get it completed. While this is understandable to keep the business going, it can make people less passionate about design in a public setting. When entering or starting a project, a small amount of leg work in understanding a certain municipality’s or jurisdiction’s process can go a long way with navigating the different steps along the way and make the process and design more fun and productive.

Can you share the notable challenges you have had through your career practicing as a landscape architect in the public sector?

In contrast to the previous question, a challenge has been learning the process and politics of getting projects to continue to move forward, especially those that involve many stakeholders and constituents. That said, with a good attitude and collaborative approach, it is rewarding to see visions come to reality that were truly a team effort.

Can you share the positive experiences you have had while working as a landscape architect in the public sector, especially at a prestigious institution?  

Taking community input, incorporating it into designs and drawings, and then working to make the project a reality. It’s fun to share an idea or receive an idea from the public, get them excited about it, and then make it come to life. We also have the privilege to have our own in-house construction division, with very talented crews, so it is satisfying working with them to shape the ideas on paper into physical manifestations.

If there was one tip you wish to share with the next generation of landscape architects for them to take to heart, what would it be?

Have fun with the process!  Learn from all the disciplines you work with and view them as collaborators. Keep hand sketching to think through ideas and design. There is no substitute to quickly get ideas flowing.

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