ASLA Oregon LANDbytes JANUARY 2012 Feature:
R E S P E C T
By Rebecca Wahlstrom
In a recent online article, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) President, Andrew Herrmann, asked if engineering was the Rodney Dangerfield of professions. It was a great article that questioned why baseball players, doctors, and songwriters get listed in the New York Times obituary and not any prominent engineers. I enjoyed reading the article and all the comments subsequently made by ASCE members, but it also brought up some questions of my own. Does the battle for respect get in the way of providing good project execution? If one of the allied design professions gets respect, does that mean that the others will suffer with a lack thereof?
I realize that there is a long way to go for mutual respect among the disciplines. I’ve had a licensed engineer question why I was studying so diligently for the landscape architecture exams, because it “can’t be that hard.” I was again with a group of engineers when I told them that I had passed all my sections and would now be licensed. Many of the engineers clapped, but when I said that licensure helps protect the public, two of the engineers snickered to each other, joking “Ooo! Watch out for that plant.” (Oddly enough, these encounters did not sour my attitude towards engineers; I count many of that profession as good friends.) I’m sure disrespectful behavior between the allied design professions doesn’t just happen to landscape architects; engineers, architects, interior designers, and planners all vie for this elusive respect at the design table. If only we could just sit down and do something like arm-wrestle before meetings to decide the pecking order, maybe life would be more straightforward, but sadly it doesn’t work that way. Much of the meeting will be spent in verbal one-upmanship, taking the focus off of providing great solutions for the client and the public.
People may know their work frontwards and backwards and have excellent ideas to contribute to the process, but it won’t mean a thing if they are not heard in a respectful way. In the aforementioned article, many engineers blogged that they need to get respect by dressing better, demanding more money, having better news coverage, being more extroverted, etc. I only saw one engineer post a comment that the reason engineers don’t get individual recognition is that there are many people providing input into a project, and not just one person was responsible for the design.
I think that in order to see any change in these professional boundary wars, we will need to have a two-fold approach. One: there needs to be a united effort among the professional societies to learn more about what the other does, and not rely solely on preconceived notions and assumptions. Society administration can provide a strong role model; if society members see administration extend a hand of friendship and respect to other professions, they might be encouraged to do the same. Two: a grass-roots level movement, like the ASLA Understory campaign, can serve as a great way to promote face-to-face discussions with different professions and with the public to educate and inform.
Reading the ASCE article and similar ones in other allied professions, it seems that no one is satisfied with their current level of respect. This leads me to think that the old ways are not working and there needs to be a new order of business. If we all realized that each profession brings its own strength and talents to the design table and can contribute in a meaningful way, I believe we could really make some fantastic things happen. It will take a lot of work and a lot of bending of old ideas to break down some of these walls, but once we realize that these walls are only hindering the process…wow! Having everyone work to their greatest strength and potential can only result in awesome design, and when that happens, everyone wins.