The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA)

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The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) is a professional organization which is the voice of the profession of landscape architecture in Canada.   The CSLA is an advocate for its members on issues such as urban design, urban renewal, sustainable development, the environment and cultural heritage.   The CSLA was founded in 1934 to represent landscape architects and land planners throughout the country. In its growing years, the society narrowed its focus to specifically landscape architecture, and has established nine provincial subcomponents since the 1970s. The CSLA still operates through that model today, under President Robert Norman, with 2,000 members across the country.  Norman was also, a former President of the CSLA’s Ontario component, in the 1990’s.

“The CSLA has a strong strategic plan,” says Norman. “We’ve concentrated on defining targets, deliverables and measures, versus our values, vision and mission, for our profession association. On a high level, our three main targets for our strategic plan are, to lead a healthy society; To raise the awareness of the profession of landscape architecture, both in Canada and abroad; and To provide direct service to our members.”

One of the “main targets” for Norman and the CSLA has been to build deeper connections with the federal government to share opinions and solutions for climate change. On February 24, 2016, Norman and his associate Dr. Colleen Mercer Clarke, who chairs the CSLA Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, met with federal Senior Policy Advisor for Climate Change, Mr. Jean-Paul Jepp of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Both Norman and Mercer Clarke explained the profession of landscape architecture, the role of the CSLA as a professional body and the role of landscape architecture in adapting to climate change – how planting trees are part of the solution helping with carbon sequestration, and controlling the effects of storm water runoff.

“I believe the Federal representative appreciated, that we provided alternative ideas of how to address mitigating and adapting to climate change, rather than solely considering air emissions,” he says. “We wish to continue educating the Federal Ministries, on what landscape architects can offer in supporting the environment, our climate and national parks. We also believe there are opportunities in promoting our profession with Ministries overseeing Small Business and Tourism, Sports and Persons with Disabilities, Infrastructure and Communities, and Ministry of Natural Resources for examples.”

Along with this important meeting with Jepp, the CSLA has also received a second request to participate in a round table design discussion for the proposed National Memorial to Victims of Communism with the Minister of Canadian Heritage. But, it doesn’t stop at home; the society also works with a few ventures outside of Canada’s border – including their sister to the south. In January 2016, the CSLA hosted a Presidents’ Council in Ottawa, welcoming The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), the Council for Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board (LAAB), the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Council (LAAC) and The Council of Landscape Architects Review Board (CLARB); the latter is in charge of exams, curriculum and courses for landscape architectural programs abroad, to make sure that all professional practice standards are equally met. This council serves as a brainstorming session to tackle “a dashboard of issues” present within the industry.

April is World Landscape Architecture Month, which allows the CSLA to spread awareness of the rewards and issues within the industry. Students are invited to design posters for the occasion, and a display is shared to educate the public on the craft of landscape architecture and the types of projects its professionals take part in every day; this promotion is carried into the summer months with the society’s yearly congress, which is the premier networking and educational event for the growing Canadian landscape architecture profession.

“In 2015, we did something quite unique for our annual Congress,” says Norman.
“We held our congress outside of Canada, in Mexico City, in May of 2015. It was literally quite a different environment. The CSLA teamed up with the landscape architects of Mexico and were introduced to their unique projects, how they dealt with climate change and storm water, as well as many of their historic and heritage sites as well. It was a very positive experience for our members to view the Mexican sites, and collaborating with the professionals in Mexico.”

In addition to their yearly promotion and congress, the CSLA publishes a quarterly magazine – Landscapes|Paysages – and a monthly bulleting for its members. The society also published a Canadian Landscape Standard modeled on the successful British Columbia Landscape Standard in partnership with the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association; has a yearly honours and awards program which includes, for the first time in 2016, a Governor General’s Medal in Landscape Architecture; and, more recently, conducted a compensation and benefits survey for its junior to senior professional positions.

At this year’s Congress in Winnipeg in June of 2016, “We’re primarily encouraging landscape architects to think how they contribute to their immediate neighbourhoods, or immediate communities, and how their work has an effect on the operation of their local communities,” says Norman. “Whether it’s designing a neighbourhood park; a streetscape, creating safe pedestrian zones; or encouraging walking, or active living opportunities, the focus is on how landscape architects contribute to the function of our local space and design the space for safety, to protect our residents. With climate change, we’re experiencing far more severe weather, as far as the amount and intensity of rainfall. There is a number of different ways that we can address rainfall, such as creating storm water ponds, rain gardens, or bio-swales with vegetation, designed to accommodate storm water volumes.  Other materials that we’re experimenting with, is parking lots made of concrete, but with perforations through the concrete for self-drainage.  The surface of the concrete is therefore like a popcorn texture, which allows water to percolate through the concrete pavement, rather than simply running off and potentially causing flooding.”

Various components of the CSLA have helped contribute to a variety of municipal projects such as the Trans-Canada Trail and Ontario’s Waterfront Regeneration Trust trails, and Norman believes that these types of relationships are very positive towards the future of the industry. With past roles in both the CSLA and Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA), Norman understands the importance of volunteering and giving back to professional associations across the country, that have helped contribute to growing success within the landscape architecture industry. He began his own career as a volunteer with the OALA – where he served on numerous committees, including the provincial education committee – until he became OALA President for 1991 and 1992.  In 2014, Norman was nominated and elected as the President-Elect for the CSLA, taking the President’s role in May of 2015.

“I found it fascinating to see the diversity of the membership across Canada – the common problems and different challenges, as well as sharing best practices. It was very positive and a great opportunity, when I was asked to stand for election for position of the President for the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.  I feel honoured to represent the CSLA and have the opportunity to work with such a talented group of professionals across Canada on the Board of Directors of the CSLA.  It is also a privilege to work with representatives from the American Society of Landscape Architects as well.”

Ultimately, Norman is grateful that he has been able to work so closely with the various components of the CSLA, and his main goal for its future is to continue to improve the presence of landscape architecture with the Federal Government.  The CSLA has previously prepared letters of introduction to the Prime Minister’s office and select Ministries following the Federal election in 2015. The target is to continue to build relationships with the Federal Ministries, beyond the initial climate change project.

The CSLA, along with the Québec provincial component, and 5 other design-based professions, are hosting the International Federation of Landscape Architects’ World Congress during the 2017 World Summit and Congress in Montreal, in October. The event will showcase the talents of various design professions – and help to promote interaction between professions and across borders.

“It’s been quite a privilege to be elected to the position of President to represent landscape architecture for Canada,” he says. “The CSLA has a talented group of professionals representing all nine components across Canada. It’s been very fruitful to share our ideas and challenges together. Together we are increasing the understanding of what the profession has to offer.  The CSLA is dedicated to advancing the art, science and practice of Landscape Architecture

Landscape architecture is still a relatively young profession comparatively, and the average person may have a hard time understanding exactly what we do.  As landscape architects, we create places for people – whether it’s a very natural environment, through to creating an urban square, or an urban plaza in a bustling downtown area. Creating sports fields, theme parks, children’s playgrounds, streetscapes, ensuring accessibility, shade relief from the sun, or protection from the wind, re-creating wetlands, creating sustainable environments, as well as protecting and enhancing our natural environment, are all services a landscape architect provides to serve the public interest and to protect the public’s well-being.”