2020 Annual WASLA Conference

Seattle Airport Marriott, March 27, 2020

Lessons Learned From The Top: Leading Landscape Architecture in the Public Realm


As landscape architects, many of us focus on improving the health, diversity, and quality of our public spaces. To facilitate an ecology focused design approach, we collaborate and connect with a broad set of stakeholders, including associated disciplines, agency staff, politicians, artists, business leaders, and directly with individual community members. To create real change in the public realm, landscape architects must position themselves not just to serve on a project, but to lead them. Some fellow landscape architects have done just this, answering a call to leadership by purposefully transitioning to positions at public agencies, effectively being the leader on many of the projects we ultimately participate on.
This panel session explores leadership lessons learned by landscape architects who have transitioned from private practice, non-profit positions, or academia into leadership positions at public agencies. understand the challenges they faced in an often planning or engineering heavy environment, and how their training in landscape architecture has made them better leaders in the public realm.

Speaker Bios:

Chris Overdorf, PLA ASLA, SCJ Alliance - Principal Landscape Architect

Chris is an award-winning and nationally-certified landscape architect and planner with more than 25 years of experience, encompassing a diverse range of project types, scales, and clients. His work covers a broad range of land use projects that have helped his clients solve complex issues with thoughtful place-based collaborative planning and design solutions. His project experience includes both civic and municipal facilities, interpretive design, transportation corridors, environmental art, park & recreation facilities, green infrastructure design, visual impact assessments, and geospatial analysis for a wide range of clients. Chris draws inspiration from the deep history of landscapes and people’s connection to their community’s heritage.

Jennifer Knauer, Landscape Architect + Planner

Planning Manager, King County DNR, Roads Division
Jennifer has 25+ years of experience leading teams and decision-makers through complex capital planning, program development, resource management, and regional policy/budget initiatives. Her professional focus is the human dimension of ecosystems, from the site to watershed to bio-regional scales. She has held several positions, ranging from private practice to currently leading the Planning Department of Road Services Division for King County Department of Transportation.

Signature projects from her portfolio of work include East Lake Sammamish Rails-to-Trails Project; Presidio Master Trails Plan; Presidio Vegetation Management Plan; 2005 King County Greenprint; 2006 King County Flood Hazard Management Plan; 2008 Puget Sound Action Agenda; 2011 Baseline Assessment of Puget Sound Basin Invasive Species; 2011 Pierce County Flood Plan; 2013 Puget Sound Chinook Monitoring and Adaptive Management Framework; 2015 Green River System-Wide Improvement Framework; 2016 and 2018 King County Roads Business Plans; 2017 King County Bicycle Network Planning Report; and King County Roads ADA Transition Plan.

David Erickson - Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director
City of Wenatchee

David Erickson began his career working for private landscape architecture firms in the Seattle area and over the next 38 years has worked in the field of Parks and Recreation. He has served as the Director of the City of Wenatchee Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department for the last 13 years. In this role, he oversees park and open space acquisition, design, and development; the public art program; community forestry program; grant writing; comprehensive and strategic planning; park, streetscape, stormwater facility, pool, community center, cemetery operations, and maintenance; recreation programs; department IT, HR and budgeting; and general administration. He is also an active community volunteer and also serves on the State Land and Water Conservation Funding Board and is in his second term on the Cashmere City Council.

Brad Cownover, Regional Landscape Architect, USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region

Over the course of his career Brad has provided policy and advocacy leadership as well as direct scenic conservation services to communities and organizations across the country. He currently is a Regional Landscape Architect for the USFS serving as the technical expert on matters related to scenic byways and corridor management planning, visual assessment methods and strategies for visual mitigation, context sensitive transportation planning, scenic easements and other open space preservation tools, and guidelines for the design of the built environment. Prior to joining USFS, he was the Director of Scenic Conservation for non-profit Scenic America and served as the Chief Landscape Architect for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where he was program and policy lead for Scenic Byways and Visual Resources Management. Throughout his career, Brad has tirelessly created partnerships with major federal land management agencies and the Center for Sustainable Destinations arm of the National Geographic Society to create a clearinghouse of information on landscape aesthetic issues.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn the challenges landscape architects face who have transitioned to agency leadership positions.
  • Learn how to landscape architects can collaborate more effectively with other disciplines and agency staff in a broader variety of project types.
  • Understand how landscape architects can better position themselves on multi-disciplinary planning & design teams.
  • Learn how landscape architects need to anticipate and affect planning and design policy that impacts the public realm.