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Thread: Pursuing an LA career vs. Planning...

  1. #1
    Cyburbian English Ivy's avatar
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    Pursuing an LA career vs. Planning...

    Hi All,

    I am in the process of completing my applications to various MLA programs and must mention that I have received wonderful and insightful advice from this forum!!

    However, I had a question...I've noticed that lots of people have switched from being LA majors to Planning...or have decided to make career changes to planning. My question is for those who have decided to pursue degrees in LA and stay in the field....what inspired you or motivates you to pursue Landscape Architecture vs. Planning?

    Just curious to know.

    English Ivy

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    I think you'll do alot better monetarily w/ and LA degree and license.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I actually didn't really know anything about Landscape Architecture before I went to school. Once there, it all seemed very sexy and exciting and I even considered a change, though I stuck with Planning in the end.

    I personally came to feel that Planning had a wider range of directions to go in as compared to LA. For Planning, you can be a physical planner, work in community development, economic development, social planning, natural resources, master planning, etc. Landscape architecture is more exclusively focused on design of the physical environment (which, if that is what your ambition is, is great).

    Another major difference, I think, is that while a great deal of planners work in the public sector, most of the LA work is done by private firms. I actually worked in a firm that did both planning and LA and I have to say that one attractive element was that the landscape architect jobs were so much more discrete and quickly implemented (no messy public process, no constituency-building...). That all seemed very gratifying for the workers, and as we slaved away endlessly on our sector plans, there was more than a little jealousy on my part.

    But in the end, I love the public process and the challenge of integrating disparite elements (housing, jobs, physical improvements, etc) to create a situation that empowers and improves the lives of communities. I suppose LA can do this through good design, but the level of engagement with the public is not as intensive.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Here's my take on it:

    There's a lot of overlap between landscape architecture & planning. From my perspective, which path you take depends on what you want to do with it. If you want to focus on policy and the written plan, go for a planning degree. If you want to focus on the built environment, a LA degree would be critical. If you don't know, go LA.

    Also, it's generally easier for a LA to become a planner, than it is for a planner to become a LA. LA's have *some* training in planning issues, but Planners have little training in LA issues. Planning firms often hire LAs. LA firms rarely hire planners. With work experience (4 years AFAIK), a LA can sit for the AICP exam & get certified. It would take a lot more experience to sit for the LARE, even if the planner could get hired to do the work in the first place.

    Again, YMMV. I also recognize my bias, as a LA who does planning.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Plus in an LA program you learn that cool font that they all write in.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    As I mentioned in another thread, if you find yourself getting into large LA projects, you may find yourself spending countless hours doing CAD work, shuffling tree symbols around. If that is for you and you can sit still for that long, more power to you. I find I get stir crazy. I need some variety to my day. Seeing the final product can be gratifying if you need a creative outlet. I'm not sure why, but I've found my need for a creative outlet to have waned over the years while I find myself regretting not pursuing a more lucrative field. I don't know, maybe I'm growing lazier or just want to spend less time working. I find being stuck in an office all day to be exhausting. The deadlines can be stressful if you're in a private office. Much depends on how quickly you can produce the work. I've known some LAs who were relieved to find a public sector job after years of the stress of the private sector. Do you want to use design to solve problems? Then planning might be more fulfilling. If you want to make shopping centers and subdivisions prettier, then an LA career may be more for you.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  7. #7
    Cyburbian English Ivy's avatar
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    Hi,

    Thank you all for your responses.

    Question for boilerplater, I take it that you're an LA??...so what do you plan on doing next? You don't seem satisfied with your current job or work environment. Do you think that it's maybe the firm you work for? Or, is LA not all that you thought it would be?

    I'm asking because I found your response to be rather interesting...it made me really think about what I really want. Personally from experience, I would not like to be stuck in an office for "countless hours" simply doing CAD work or "shuffling tree symbols around" as you stated.

    In all honesty, I'd much rather have variety in my day such as working both indoors and outdoors and being involved in various projects. I'm just wondering if other LA's have had experiences similar to what you have described?

    Again, I'm just curious.

    Thanks again for all your responses.

    English Ivy

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    The profession of landscape architecture has a lot of variety, but yes, the 'typical' LA sits inside of an office most days. If you're lucky, they will let you out for a site visit from time to time.... And yes, the typical LA grad does sit in fron of a computer shuffling plant symbols around.

    Still, it depends on what you want. If that's not the life for you, there is plenty of opportunity that would allow you to be on-site with some frequency. You'll probably be working with a smaller design-build LA firm, and concentrate on the smaller end of things.

    To be honest, all of planning isn't that sexy, either. There are plenty of planners writing up rather dull plans, shuffling text rather than CAD symbols.

    Again, as with everything, it *is* what you make of it. No matter what degree you get, the rest is up to you.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian English Ivy's avatar
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    Hi bdaleray,

    Thanks again for your helpful and insightful responses. I completely agree with you when you say that "it's what you make of it."

    While we're on the topic, I am aware that it's quite a long road to licensure and being able to have greater responsibilities as an LA. So, my next question is:

    Does the work experience that a recent LA grad gains really help prepare for the LARE? In other words, is the work/tasks assigned to new grads really relevant to what is needed to gain licensure? I'm curious to know if employers of LA and/or LA related firms invest time in preparing LA grads for licensure?

    Again, just being curious.

    English Ivy

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by English Ivy
    Hi bdaleray,
    Does the work experience that a recent LA grad gains really help prepare for the LARE? In other words, is the work/tasks assigned to new grads really relevant to what is needed to gain licensure? I'm curious to know if employers of LA and/or LA related firms invest time in preparing LA grads for licensure?

    English Ivy
    Hi Ivy -

    As always, I'm delighted to answer your questions.

    Once again, though, the answer is that it all depends!

    From what I understand, most problems with the LARE come from the technical sections, especially site grading and details. If you work with a firm that does lots of that, you're golden. Some of the larger LA firms do enough detailed design to stay proficient, but not many. Working with a multi-disciplinary engineering firm can help, because you'll often be working with site planning, and the grading is reviewed early. Working with the engineers helps, too, if you need to brush up on grading & drainage concepts. The downside, though, is that few multi-disciplinary engineering firms do detailed landscape design, so you won't do many landscape details.

    If you work with a small landscape company, especially one that does lots of residential landscapes, you're pretty much screwed - most of the ones I know do *very* little site grading, and not much more detailed design of site features. Many of the designers with those backgrounds have a harder time passing the LARE.

    Also on the unfortunate side of things is the fact that very few firms have programs that support junior designers is passing the LARE - most folks do it on their own. There is a reason that the first-time passage rate (all sections at the first try) is something like 20% - most people pass a few sections, and then keep working on the rest - you only have to re-take the portions you didn't pass.

    All isn't lost, though. If you have a strong school background, and study a bit, you should do ok. There's also a number of LARE-prep courses out there. Be aware, though, that my perception is that few MLA programs qualify as 'strong' in the technical department - there's just too much to cram into 3 years of school....

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