I Need a New Schtick

In some ways I am envious of the design professional who travels the country with a simple message. The insights are usually pretty good, sometimes even profound.  Most are worth listening to and integrating into one’s own practice. But too often they are sold like snake oil – a salve that cures all ills. I never found things that simple. I have a hard time walking around a place and pointing at something and saying with full conviction – this just needs a whatwhosit and everything will be just ducky. Oh I’ll admit that I have been guilty of that on occasion, but really, I find the iterative approach much more useful. Explore the place, look at the data, consider how it fits into the larger network, listen to what people say and then try to come up with something. That process is typically repeated a few times until something really clicks. But “It’s Complicated and Takes Time,” my current pitch, just isn’t that appealing. People are wired to seek out simple solutions to complex problems.

This got me thinking, perhaps there is a simple solution after all. For a moment, consider the wayward path of the design professions in the last half of the 20th century. Landscape Architects (my profession) became obsessed with pure design. Our trade magazine featured beautiful photos of great looking places. In reality, a lot of those places really sucked when you actually used them. Architects were all about stunning, convention defying object pieces that looked like they just landed. Context went out the window and doors, well they got hard to find. Planners got rid of the old, messy and inconvenient; it was replaced with order and an imposed ideal social structure. Sometimes they pulled this off on a grand scale. And Engineers, they became masters of moving objects as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fantastically complex models were developed that predicted the future and created entertaining graphics showing little dots moving around a grid. What we all forgot was people.

Now this is of course a gross simplification, but admit it, your brain provided you with plenty of images to complement what I just described. The design professions have gotten much better about thinking about people. And there is a growing recognition that we need to get out of our silos and talk to each other (as well as many other professionals). So my schtick? People First Planscape Archineering. OK, I agree, the people first bit is not all that original – been said before. And cross discipline coordination, yep been discussed ad nauseam. So I guess I’m back where I started, I need a new schtick. But for now I’ll keep with People First Planscape Archineering, which by the way, is kind of complicated and takes time.

– Norm