31 August 2011

We're Not Doctors

People are funny creatures.  In some instances we're all too happy to pass responsibility to people we deem better able to manage our problems.  We readily take medicine doctors prescribe us, rarely understanding how or why the medicine works; we allow engineers to determine the specifics of our sewer pipes and electrical lines, again rarely understanding the work that goes into our infrastructure; and we rely on lawyers to prosecute and defend us to keep everyone accountable to the law.  We assign these people a certain power and are content to follow them (for the most part). 

We do this because we recognize that some people have the knowledge it takes to solve certain problems while others don't.  We value certain knowledge over others, and we evaluate who has that  knowledge based on accreditations, certifications, degrees, and job positions.  A doctor is only a doctor because he or she took many years to learn medicine and pass a slew of tests and training.  Same thing for an engineer or a lawyer.  Or an accountant.  Or any other profession that requires licensing. 

Any other profession, that is, except landscape architecture and perhaps architecture.  In the professional fields of design, people spend years on education, training, and licensing to learn the best ways to shape the physical environment.  Like medicine, design is complicated, intricate, and sometimes uncertain.  There are very technical aspects of design and some more subjective aspects.  It takes a certain skill to be able to successfully navigate the realm of design. 

And yet, few communities or developers rely on landscape architects in the way people tend to rely on doctors, engineers, or lawyers.  Even the best designers face community meetings stuffy with the residues of NIMBY attitudes.  Even that's an accomplishment: it's enough of a challenge to be invited to the meeting to begin with. 

So why is that?  Are people overly optimistic about their abilities to address the same community planning challenges as a skilled, trained, and licensed professional?  Is the profession overly simplified so that people have the perception that anyone can do it?  Should landscape architecture even be a profession, considering so little value is placed on the practice? 

Or maybe landscape architects should be more aggressive in the workplace?  Maybe landscape architects should push for more power in the design and construction world?  What if it were illegal to build a community without the assistance of a landscape architect?  What if it were illegal to perform any construction at all without a landscape architect's approval? 

It's not such a leap: medicine cannot be prescribed without a doctor's approval.  That's for everyone's safety.  I might argue the same could be said of landscape architecture.  Who else is in a better position to understand the full implications of construction and community development?  Who else is better qualified to weigh the economic, social, and environmental costs of building?  In the past we haven't had anyone monitoring human expansion, and look where that's gotten us? 

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