Evaluate before you begin

I took a webcast journey to Toronto, Canada this week to the Grey to Green conference.  Despite the obvious dis-benefit of missing out on the valuable social interactions at an international conference, it was a valuable experience.  How so? My valuable and limited expenditure of time was the main driver for not jumping on the next A380 to LAX .  I weighed up the costs, the content, the potential networking and the opportunity to extend the Toronto trip. Why go so far and no go on to numerous North American project sites to increase the depth of the experience.

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After evaluation of the costs and benefits in my mind, I did the same evaluation on the webcast option, the relatively minor costs, the late nights, the value of keynotes and specific program streams.  The comfort of my own environment, the ability to continue to work and service commitments to my clients.  We all do this when evaluating options.  It’s a natural process.  We rarely document it unless we are trying to convince an authoriser of the benefits of one option over another through the ‘business case’.

When it all boils down, the content was my key driver, so I heavily weighted it and the webcast option won.  I paid my cash, set up the headphones on the desktop and watched the keynotes with weary interest at the end of a busy week in Melbourne.

Was it worthwhile?

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YES! It was an extremely valuable experience.  I came away from the webcast with the same driving enthusiasm as I would from a conference in person.  I wish I could say I was overwhelmed by all the speakers.  About 30% of content rang bells with me.  Thats fairly standard.  My best in show was a presentation from a fellow landscape architect, Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, Executive Director, Landscape Architecture Foundation, Washington DC. To many of you the topic might appear dry. The design driven title “Beyond Form and Function: Integrating performance-based design into Beautiful Practice” …..The title provides some insights into the content.  A collaborative effort to pull together all the sustainability evaluation tools for the landscape. Barbara’s take home message was ” Evaluate before and After”.

Is this a set of tools that will be applicable in the Australian condition? In the absence of our own set of tools and a method for recording I believe it is time to evaluate.

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For over a decade now we have been able to design and measure building performance and demonstrate value, award success and strictly manage the new building stock that is hitting our streets.  Isn’t it time we were able to do the same for landscapes with a standardised tool across the continent.  We are blessed by this work by FASLA, the Landscape Performance Series will take the value of green space form nice to have to must have green infrastructure for many clients.  The key is demonstrating value in Landscape assets.  Intuitively we have all known of the aesthetic pleasure, the probable health benefits, the urban cooling, and many other environmental value adds.   Now we should and must demonstrate the value, identify the key objectives and demonstrate how design has achieved these and any had data based value adds. For example, when we can measure a restorative value in a workplace enhancement project, we should record a social measure against the triple bottom line.

With the advent of  this new toolkit we can now add the valuable measurement and evaluation of environmental, social and economic benefits.  I’ll be talking to my Australian Institute of Landscape Architects colleagues to see how far along we are.  I hope to be able to share with our clients the true value of their contribution in all their Living Architecture initiatives.

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Photo of the University of Toronto green roof Sandy Nicolason