Any chance to meet with professionals in the discipline is a good experience… generally speaking. You can learn a lot of good traits to have to be successful, and even observe some not-so-good traits that may lead to less than ideal performance. Luckily for us, this trip provided ample of the former and almost non of the latter. We had the opportunity as a class to venture up to Philadelphia for the weekend to meet with local firms indcluding OLIN, WRT, and Andropogon Associates (local only in their office addresses given their far reaching influences) as well as Nelson Byrd Woltz en route. We also had the chance to explore a variety of projects of interest including the Race Street Pier, Navy Yards and Central Green, and Shoemaker Green. There were also moments for experiencing the local culture of Philadelphia, however those stories are for another time.
Oddly enough the visit that stood out the most to me wasn’t with one of the longstanding, well known design firms. Rather, I was most interested in our time with two young landscape architects with the Philadelphia Water Department. Both were technically employed by an outside firm, but worked under the jurisdiction, by contract, of the Water Department on a unique project… or rather network of projects. They had been tasked with the job of developing a new form of infrastructure in a way by utilizing a variety of sites across the city to redevelop the city’s storm water system. Dubbed the Green Cities, Clean Waters project the initiative had been applied to over 500 active and former sites – no small feat for a staff of 3. What was more impressive was the impact the project has already been seen to have on the community. It has been so successful at addressing storm water that ground work is being laid to expand its operation and further organize its development. Rather than simple selecting projects that are “low hanging fruit” the team will be able to better select projects across the city by dividing it into quadrants and sending review teams out to identify future sites. They have also had an interesting relationship with policy makers and contractors acting as the liaison between the two. As a way to track progress, ensure quality, and communicate with elected officials the program requires “photo points” at every project. These are essentially predetermined locations on site where the contractor or LA is required to take a monthly photo at the same angle to track progress. A simple and efficient method really that creates a visual log of work done and when. Perhaps the strongest evidence for the program had little to do with its landscape architecture connections, but rather its unique position to generate non-skilled labor jobs throughout Philadelphia. As a supplement to the program and to aid with site identification, production, and maintenance the program has started the “Power Corp”. In a way a local form of AmeriCorp, the Power Corp has helped hundreds of individuals gain steady employment in the city.