Leaving A Legacy

I have a bit of exciting news to share with you this week: On Tuesday, my youngest brother and his wife had a baby and made my wife and me an Auntie and Uncle once again. As you are reading this, we are most likely on our way to meet our nephew for the first time.

A new nephew gets Boyd thinking about his landscape architecture legacy.

As I was preparing to write this weekend’s post, I was thinking about the new addition to our family. As I started making my usual notes, many things crossed my mind, and I would like to take a moment to share a few of those with you today.

When a newborn is welcomed into this world, he is helpless; over the course of his lifetime, he will have to learn a nearly infinitesimal number of things in order to survive and be successful.

I remember when I young, anything related to the outdoors fascinated me. I grew up in the country, and we spent more than our fair share of time outdoors. We gardened, raised livestock, rode horses and bikes up and down the long driveway, and did just about anything else we could get away with--as long as we were outside.

When we grew older and started school, we looked forward to recess and playing outside on the playground. It wasn’t long before we discovered the city parks. Once we were old enough, our parents allowed us to ride our bikes to the park to play, as long as we left for home as soon as the streetlights turned on. Those were the benefits of living in a small town in the late Seventies.

As a boy, I never paid much attention to the layout of a park or a public space. As long as there was grass to run on and play equipment to climb on, we could use our imaginations and keep ourselves occupied for hours on end.

As I have grown up and found that I make my living designing parks and public outdoor spaces, I have come to appreciate the level of effort required to make these spaces user friendly and sustainable. Many times, it feels as if we are asked to fit “one more ball field” or “five more parking stalls” into our design and, at some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves “at what cost?”

Does the intended use of a public space supersede the need for sustainability? While I think we all can agree that, of course, it does not, I often ask myself, “What is there to gain by such practices as forcing more turf into a retention basin for a larger soccer field?” or “What do we really gain by taking away one ramada in order to add another play structure?”

When I was a child, our parks did not have near the amenities that most parks have today.

We were lucky to have a swingset, a slide, a merry-go-round, and a set of monkey bars. When it came to needing anything else, we used our imaginations and set out for the adventure of a lifetime--an adventure that had to be finished when the streetlights came on because dinner was waiting for us at home.

Now that I am an uncle again, it fills my heart with joy to know that my nephew will grow up in the same small town that I did. It also means he will most likely play on the same playgrounds and in the same parks that I did when I was a boy. While these parks and playgrounds may not be as pristine as they once were, I am glad to know that they are still around and most likely will be for many years to come.

If I could leave you with one final thought today, it would be this challenge: The next time you begin a new design on a project, consider the legacy that you, the designer, are leaving for future generations.

Is your design something that you will be proud to have your name associated with in 20 or 30 years? If you can answer yes to this question, then in my mind you will have done your job and will have left a great legacy to our profession, of which you can be proud.

I hope you have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on twitter at @CDGLA or email: bcoleman001@gmail.com