What can be said about the events of the past few months at ASLA National? There is a mixed bag of news: membership is down from the past few years; fiscal security of the organization was rocked by a few down turns; the Executive Committee decided to replace Executive Vice President, Nancy Summerville; the new ASLA headquarters building received the LEED Platinum Award from USGBC; and the organizational focus has been on social and environmental justice efforts.
While this all sounds apocalyptic, it is not. We should keep in mind that attracting members to an organization such as ASLA is always a challenge and, with the availability of information and connectiveness so readily accessible via the internet, one of ASLA’s key benefits is diminished. There was a time when ASLA and other membership driven groups had a lock on content and community, not so much so these days. ASLA leadership recognizes that change and they are regrouping and discovering ways that the erosion can be abated. Research into the numbers reveals that the decline is occurring at the Associate and Student levels.
We all need to be recruiters for ASLA. Discover why you are a member; you are getting something of value out of this relationship. Challenge yourself to share that message with four other potential members. They may find similar value in membership. For me, the value is in the people that I get to meet and the relationships that I build with them in this journey.
Fiscal security is always a concern and ASLA has plenty of it. Adjustments are being made to compensate for a decline in advertising sales, stock market fluctuations, and membership declines. We have all experienced changes in the marketplace in the past few years and had to make adjustments, sometimes painful and many times not. The same is true at the National level. The reserves are in place, corrections are being made, and we will see the positive results in the coming months.
Nancy Sommerville’s departure was a surprise to me and the precise reasons for the change have not been made known to me at the time of this writing. However, change is inevitable, and the national leadership felt it was required at this time. The important thing to take away from the departure will be the charge the new individual will be given and how the organization will change.
The best part of the USGBC Platinum designation for the Center for Landscape Architecture is that the project is complete, and that is something of which we as a collective should be proud. There were bumps on the road to completion, but we are trained problem solvers in a field where we get paid to smooth out bumps. If you have a chance, check out the facilities on the ASLA website and if you are in DC, stop by and take a tour, your money paid for it.
ASLA has rolled out its own Green New Deal to the public, and if you read it you will find out that it is more about the GREEN and less about politics. It is inevitable that an organization with a wide spectrum membership such as ASLA will have a constituency that finds little value in the environmental Justice movement, but at the root of the movement is finding sustainable interventions that will make living better. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what landscape architecture is all about. And by the way, Earth day and its vision was one of the reasons I studied landscape architecture in the early seventies.
The Social Justice focus of ASLA and its efforts to address diversity is important, not because of the political correctness movement, but because of the value to membership. The key to successful membership recruitment is quality, not just volume. If we are going to remain relevant as a professional society, we should be as diverse and as inclusive as possible, considering that we are a subset of society. You may want to explore why you are in Landscape Architecture and share that with the children in your community. Who knows, you may spark an interest in someone who had no idea that we exist or the magic that we do. Maybe then the issue of diversity will solve itself.
Baxter Miller, ASLA
Southern California Chapter Trustee