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Common Space: A Public Practice Series—Q&A with Jennifer Shagin, ASLA

Image provided by Jennifer Shagin

Jennifer Shagin, ASLA, is Landscape Designer with NES in Colorado Springs, CO. She is the present Chair of the ASLA Public Practice Advisory Committee.

This interview was conducted by Om Khurjekar, ASLA, PLA, Principal, Hord Coplan Macht.

Q: Did you prefer public sector versus private work when you were starting your career or did other events shape your career decisions?

A: I honestly truly enjoy both realms. What I like most about the private sector is that it is very diverse and offers a lot of creative solutions and design decisions that are often not as available in the public sector. I like the challenges of working with different municipalities and the wide variety of types of projects. Most of my private sector work has been with high end apartments, housing developments, and commercial on greenfields and infill. It’s always interesting to see the challenges that come up and how each development drives you to look at something a little differently to maximize the space and improve the quality of life for those living in the site and directly adjacent to it.

Sometimes you look at a parcel or you start working on a neighborhood layout and it’s literally a puzzle with what feels like all the wrong pieces, so you rotate the view, try it another way and then bam! You have a place you want to be, with an opportunity to create spaces people and wildlife enjoy. Other times, the project is more focused on entitlement and the client is looking for direction on how to move forward with a parcel; they look to you and your company to guide them. It’s a fun process, working directly with the client to bring their ideas to life and working through the construction administration process.

My public sector work has been overall less design oriented and more focused on overall community growth and wellbeing. My campaign for trustee for the Town of Berthoud was self-run and managed; I spent every free moment talking with residents and formulating how I could apply what I know about design to improve their livelihood. That spring I was elected with the most votes ever and I truly spent my time in office creatively working with the municipal code, land use code, serving as vice chair of the Planning Commission and liaison to the Northern Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization (NFRMPO) to serve the needs of the residents. My work in office as a trustee in a small town was very fulfilling, and I felt that it was democracy in its truest form. It was such a unique position. You are tasked to altruistically serve the community, live with your decisions, and be comfortable enough to live with them for a long time. This time truly changed the way I thought about committees, volunteers, the “squeaky wheel” and empowerment within a community.

Q: How did your education and training prepare you for what you do today?

A: My education and experiences gave me a lot of technical and pragmatic skills that have helped me in a variety of ways. I felt that studio courses prepared me very well for the office environment, design critiques/charrettes, and the technical skill to carry me through. Colorado State University taught me how to see the land, see the art in it, and to not hold back on what it could be. The creative process can often be a process of elimination, it’s testing layouts out, it’s researching what a site can hold and thinking outside of the box until you reach your best solution for the site. Softer skills, such as working with clients, budgets, etc. I learned from other ventures, such as my time in office, urban renewal in Fort Collins and VIS/Travel Management with the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned is to stay calm, step back, see the big picture, and collaborate as much as you can.

Q: Can you share the positive experiences you have had while working as a landscape architect in the public sector?

A: Writing design code and working with commissions to modify landscape and open space requirements in the municipal code has been very meaningful. The public process can be very lengthy and can sometimes be challenging to get through, but when you see the enjoyment of a community improve, it makes all the challenges worth it. I spent a year and half writing and working on design code for a small town that had no landscape requirements. Shortly after the board adopted the design code the town exploded with growth and it’s indescribable to see how happy the residents are to see the values of their community preserved as their community changes.

Q: Is there one tip you wish to share with the next generation of landscape architects?

A: Find what makes you happy, stick with it, and work to improve yourself every day.

Background information about Jennifer Shagin:
  • Degree or degrees, and where and when earned:
  • Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management, Colorado State University
  • Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University

Employment history:
  • Town of Berthoud Trustee 2014-2018 (The most votes ever received for a single person)
  • Town of Berthoud Planning Commission Vice Chair
  • Town of Berthoud NFRMPO liaison
  • Town of Berthoud Comprehensive Planning Committee
  • The Birdsall Group – Associate
  • TFG Design – Associate
  • Redevelopment Support Specialist – Fort Collins URA
  • Todd Hodges Design LLC – Land Planner
  • NES Inc – Landscape Designer III

Number of years as an ASLA member: 5

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