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An Overview of Important Trends, Marckets and Philosophies Shaping America's Growth into the Future


Over the next couple of weeks we will be subject to more speculation than the chat room of a day trader rumor mill. Many people will be attempting to predict what they characterize as "trends".

Economic trends are characterized by a sequence of events that appear to be connected and are associated with an increase or decrease in wealth. If things are holding steady is that also a trend? Although there is no dynamic move across the y axis, a persistent buying pattern is arguably just as significant. Can you trend towards sameness?

Part of the reason for this obsession toward trends has to do with the primitive construction of our brains. We are designed to recognize significant movements. Sudden alterations in the environment mean danger. A problem with the trend mentality is that it fails to recognize the present. People can acclimate to the most extraordinary circumstances. With prolonged exposure, the continuous sensation of pain or pleasure can become imperceptible. That is why it is imperative to look at elements of the economy that are apparently unmoving. Is the bar graph flat because nothing is happening, or because a series of dynamic factors are locked in mortal battle?

  Kory Bockman, an Economist with the National Association of Realtors, called 1998/99 the "boom years" for housing starts. Starts saw a downward trend in 2000 because the number of first time homebuyers decreased by approximately 8 percent. Through the first nine months of this year, 1,232,300 housing units were started, according to the U.S. Census. Approximately 1,277,500 units were completed during the same time last year. This is a decrease of 4 percent. Housing starts will drop in 2001 because of a projected recession but will see an increase by 2003. By 2004 housing starts will increase to 1.58 million units.

There are an infinite series of probabilistic natural and man-made events that result in what we call an experience or event, the sum total of which add up to what we understand as a continuous progression of moments. Attempting to interpret or quantify these events is akin to trapping gnats with a fishing net. No matter how many probabilities are factored there are an infinite number that are hidden from view. The human capacity for comprehending more than two such factors at any given time is frequently referred to as the problem of dualism. "If it's not this, then it's that." The habit of antipathies is as much a condition of our mental hard-wiring as right-handedness or breathing.

The Buddhists have perhaps captured this truth in landscape the most effectively. Walk through a traditional Buddhist rock garden and you will see an arrangement of rocks, usually 15. However, you will never see all 15 at once. No matter where you stand, kneel, bend, or crouch, at most you will see 14 rocks, but never the entire 15. The point of the garden is to remind us that there is always a hidden element, that human understanding is finite.

It was anything but "boom years" in 1998/99 for military construction. Those two years saw a 19.7 percent decline in work, the only area of public construction that saw a decline. As 2000 came to a close, military construction was up 1.1 percent and in the next few years, that number is expected to go even higher. The newest initiative in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' $7 billion fiscal year 2001 military construction program is privatization of military family housing, at a rate of six installations a year, with a goal of eventual 100 percent privatization. The Air Force has 65,000 family housing units that require total renovation. In fiscal year 2001, the Air Force will spend $72 million for housing replacements and another $174 million for family housing improvements at bases in the U.S. and overseas according to what Col. Richard J. Ingenloff, Chief, Engineering Division said.  

Despite certain limitations, the desire to project the transient present into the imagined future is an irresistible attraction. Not to mention the fact that it's a publishing tradition. After conducting extensive research regarding the economy and the profession of landscape architecture, it's clear that several specific areas will greatly influence the industry in the coming years. The following is an issue-by-issue analysis of the key factors impacting Landscape Architects in the future.


Urban Sprawl

"The enlightened RLA will respond to the needs of environmentally conscious/responsible clients by performing detailed, quantifiable site analysis as a prelude to site planning. They can then fulfill the client facility/infrastructure program for the best environmental fit. Ian McHarg showed the way to sustainable design in his landmark 1962 book 'Design With Nature'."

David B. Linstrum,

Associate Editor at Large

 With inflationary pressures at a minimum and job levels strong, the country is riding an unprecedented economic wave of success. As the projected recession swings into effect at the end of 2001, belts might have to tightened a bit by 2002. Inflation will increase at a steady rate through 2004.


One of the hot button issues of the election year is the concept of urban sprawl. Simply stated, this phenomenon is characterized by the movement of people from high density population areas to regions of lower population density. (Currently, 5% of the land area of the United States has been developed, with 75% of the nation's population living on 3.5% of the land area.) The mass exodus from cities over the past decade has alarmed owners of tenement buildings and commercial properties who are seeing their investments fly the coop, so to speak. In a 1995 U.S. Census Bureau report on property owners and managers, as many as 81 percent of large properties were seeking new tenants notwithstanding the apparent shortage in new housing.

  Housing starts for residential buildings decreased in 2000 for single family housing. First time home buyers have been forced out of the market because of higher mortgage rates in 2000. "Whenever mortgages, taxes or home prices are raised, they are reluctant to take the steps towards purchasing a house," said Bockman. He added that builders are similar to first time buyers when it comes to mortgages, taxes and home prices and that results in a slow down in building. The projected recession will decrease the number of housing starts in 2001 through mid-2002. In 2003, the number of housing starts for single family housing will start to increase culminating to more than 1.2 million units by 2004.

Despite the best efforts of urban planners, city life is a hard sell. It's not easy to put a good face on the pollution, traffic, high crime, and poverty that is common in most cities. (The average annual violent crime rate in urban areas from 1993-98 was about 74 percent higher than the rural rate and 37 percent higher than the suburban rate according to the U.S. Department of Justice.) With low cost housing, affluent neighborhoods, and modern construction available in the suburbs, the decision to evacuate urban America has been an obvious choice for new families.

Yet, there are many in government who fear the decentralization of the country's major population centers. Aside from the loss of revenue from rental properties, which is the primary source of income for the country's most wealthy scions, the desertion of the city's inner core dissipates the effort of government authorities to exert control in a unilateral fashion. The idea of encouraging people to live and work in small, closely regimented pockets of humanity has always inspired proponents of social conformity. Yet, as many politicians and urban planners are beginning to realize, people don't want to live in overgrown ant farms.

   Housing starts for residential buildings remained consistent in 2000 for multi-family housing. After the projected 2001-2002 recession, housing starts for multi-family units will show a higher percentage increase than single family housing. By 2004, the number of units will increase to more than 360,000 units.

The goal of many Landscape Architects in the coming decade will be to provide rational solutions to problems associated with rapid growth. According to the NAHB, the nation's population is projected to grow by 30 million people in the next 10 years and home builders will have to construct between 1.2 and 1.5 million new housing units each year just to keep up with the demand. Preserving green areas within these developing communities is going to take the concerted efforts of a coalition of urban planners, civil engineers, and Landscape Architects.


The Environmental Counter-Revolution

   As housing starts decrease due to the projected 2001-2002 recession, the industry will see an increase in the amount of dollars spent on residential improvements. This increase will rise to more than $73 billion spent by 2002. As the economy improves in 2003 and housing starts begin to increase, residential improvements will see a decrease in the amount of annual spending to approximately $71.55 billion by 2004.

Over the past year American's have experienced some of the highest oil prices in the country's history (A barrel of oil exceeded $37 for the first time in September of 2000). Combined with the enclosure of public lands on a vast scale, the increasing restrictions on natural resources, and the over-regulation of "safe" pesticides like Chlorpyrifos, some green industry professionals are beginning to tire of what they believe is an over-zealous, and anti-competitive environmental policy.

Judging from the topics of the conferences presented at this year's ASLA show, and the ASLA's awarding of its highest honors, the Olmsted Medal and the LaGasse Medal, to Governor Glendening and Senator Landrieu for their environmental activities, the primary thrust of the profession seems to hinge on establishing Landscape Architects as the primary design component for federal and state level public works projects.

 "Industrial & Office construction has been hot all over," said Brian Corrigan, an Industrial Specialist with the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors. "Companies are finding that they get more from 'first generation' space as opposed to existing space." Almost $21 billion went into industrial construction during 1999 in the U.S. and office construction has steadily grown in the country as well and should show steady growth through 2004.

According to Bill Toal, chief economist for the Portland Cement Association, public works construction accounts for one fourth of all construction. He predicted the year 2000 would end up with a slight decline (1percent) in public works due to a delay in money from the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). Toal predicts a 3.5 percent increase in public works in 2001, followed by 2 percent increases yearly over the next few years. However, his optimism seems to rely on the estimated $60 billion surplus in combined state and local government budgets, which he assumes will be spent on infrastructure.

   At the recent CMD Group's NAC Forecast conference, Bill Toal, Chief Economist for the Portland Cement Association, estimated that educational construction increased to 16.4 percent this year. Areas around the country that experienced growth, (thus resulting in more schools being built) in the 1990s, were Las Vegas; Laredo and McAllen-Mission, Texas, up 45 and 39.5 percent respectively; Boise, Idaho, up 37.9 percent; and Naples, Florida up 36.1 percent. Bill Frey, a Demographer with the University of Michigan said most migration involves blue collar workers who are moving to areas that have more affordable housing and a lower cost of living.

Timothy Fields, Jr., EPA's Assistant Administrator for solid waste and emergency response, predicts that the Federal and State governments will spend more than $32 billion over the next five years on environmental remediation. About 600 Superfund sites are yet to be completed and 50 pilot reuse projects have already been funded. By 2005, EPA expects to facilitate redevelopment of 400 urban brownfield sites. This massive effort to clean up urban areas is in direct opposition to migration trends, which have been characterized by the movement of people from urban into suburban population areas.

As the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Department of the Interior look for professionals to carry out the policies of the federal government it will fall upon experts like Landscape Architects to put into practice the abstract social philosophy that is dictated by the American moral and political conscience.

 Immigration and domestic migration data is a strong indicator of high population centers across the United States. Between 1990 and 1999, California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois had the highest gains in population from new immigration to the U.S.

Landscape Architects are, of course, a natural choice as protectors and custodians of the environment. Their training gives them the unique knowledge and ability to become capable land managers. The effort would also provide at least a certain population of Landscape Architects a steady source of government income. Yet, are there risks involved in making the profession reliant on the continued patronage of government? According to an LASN survey 48 percent of ASLA members earn their keep by providing services for public works. The remaining 52 percent design private residential and commercial projects.

 In contrast, the highest gains in population from net domestic migration took place in, among others, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. Because of migration out of California, these western states saw an increase in domestic migration.
As with any government agency, public servants working for the National Parks encounter increasing scrutiny. Salaries are capitated, strict professional regulations are enforced, and creativity is discouraged in favor of committee designed standard models. The tradeoff is job security, but even this isn't always the case. A quadrennial change in administration, a budget shortfall, or a changeable and inconstant electorate can have serious consequences for even the bureaucrat.

NASA scientists were once thought to have one of the most desirable jobs in the country by virtue of the administration's lofty goals and elite status. Yet, as public attention has turned away from the stars and redirected their focus on more worldly pursuits, the once powerful association has suffered from attrition as the program falls victim to deep budget cuts, changing mission strategies, and an infrastructure that is decaying more rapidly than it can be replaced.

  Real median income of households in the United States rose by 2.7 percent between 1998 and 1999, from $39,744 to $40,816. This is the fifth consecutive year that household income increased. Real median household income is now at the highest level recorded since the Census Bureau started compiling these estimates in 1967. In September 2000, real disposable personal income increased by 0.7 percent at a seasonally adjusted monthly rate. Source: Economic Statistics Briefing Room, The White House.

Although the current enthusiasm for enclosing public lands is one of the biggest issues of the 2000 election year, Americans are a fickle people. As many emerging economies change their prodigal habits of the past and begin taking control of their national resources, Americans will be faced with cutbacks and price increases on a number of fronts. If the future generation of Landscape Architects have been educated and trained solely for the purpose of maintaining a public works program, the inevitable backlash to the environmental movement could very well strand an entire class of professionals in a demographic wasteland.


Campus Design

 A strong office market, currently at a 9 percent national vacancy rate, will counter the slowdown in hotel/retail as the nonresidential market will begin to rise at a 3-5 percent rate in 2002, according to Toal. Hotel construction was up 3.4 percent in 1998/99 (the "boom years") but, as 2000 came to a close hotel construction was down 2.5 percent from those years.

The biggest political issue this year, aside from Social Security and Medicare benefits is public schooling. If the campaign promises of either Republican or Democratic candidates can be believed then the coming year will see hundreds of millions of dollars being earmarked for public school construction. Landscape Architects who have taken a growing interest in educational playground design will reap the benefits of what could be a windfall for school-minded designers.

If the movement for school vouchers becomes a reality, then parents may have more choice as to where they send their children to school. This could mean greater competitiveness among rival public and private schools and an increased attention to the physical appearance of school facilities, including landscapes and playing fields.

 Bill Buechner, Vice President of Economics and Research for the American Road & Transportation Association said that TEA-21 firewalls for highway and transit funding remain strong, and RABA (the revenue-aligned budget authority provisions) will be adding $3 billion to the guaranteed federal funding level for highway spending in 2001. RABA might add as much as $6 billion more in FY 2002.

Projections for 1999 through 2009 indicate an additional 1.3 million high school students over the time period, a 9 percent increase. Decreases in preschool and lower elementary enrollments are expected before levelling out in the next five to 10 years. At the higher education level, enrollment is projected to rise by 1.5 million over the next 10 years.(U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics)

The Boston Schoolyard Foundation is a model for the kind of construction that is transforming blacktop play surfaces into instructional gardens and boundless play environments. As Americans begin to re-evaluate their priorities, school landscape will become one of the hot growth areas for the profession, particularly at the high school and college level, which will require athletic fields, sports stadiums, and park areas.

Amusement Parks

"The future of the U.S. amusement industry looks bright. Parks have averaged 2 to 3% annual growth in attendance for the past decades - that trend is expected to continue, and with good reason. American amusement facilities today are offering a wealth of fun, safe, and unique experiences, from magically themed attractions to multi-faceted destination resorts to technologically advanced ride and amenities. All in all, it's a great time to be both a park guest and a park owner."


Joel Cliff, IAAPA


One of the most important dividends of the new economy has been the expanded leisure time afforded by greater efficiency and profitability resulting from computer-intensive business practices. (In October of 2000 the average weekly production of private workers reached a low of 34.3 hours.) Combined with the increase in disposable income, real disposable personal income increased 0.7 percent in September at a seasonally adjusted rate. With this additional income, Americans sought entertainment venues where they could enjoy an interactive family experience. Rising to meet the demand for these services is a rapidly growing amusement park industry that includes an array of theme parks, water parks, golf courses, and sports facilities.

The creation of new communities anchored to entertainment complexes represents a significant shift in the American attitude toward work habits. (In 1999, 309 million people visited theme parks in the U.S., which generated revenue of $9.1 billion as compared to $5.7 billion in 1990.) One of the tacit assumptions of modernity is that leisure time is a requirement of a healthy constitution rather than being a mere luxury. In fact, leisure time and a full night's sleep, in a sense, have become the new status symbols, replacing stress and overwork as qualities that are most admired.

Providing enhanced environments that stimulate people to interact with each other in a nonaggressive manner is the goal of many Landscape Architects in public works. Some of the most popular amusement concepts currently under development are skate parks and zero-depth water parks. If the next 10 years reflect what happened in the previous decade then amusement park development could represent one of the important growth areas for the profession.

Golf Course Maintenance

 Golf-related consumer spending reached $22.2 billion in 1999, according to a recent study by the National Golf Foundation (NGF). The report shows that green fees and dues (at both public and private courses) accounted for 74% of spending ($16.3 billion), followed by golf club purchases with 11% ($2.5 billion). Soft goods ranked third with 4% ($979 million). Overall, golf club spending was down 6.6% from 1998 purchases, but club sales are expected to rebound this year.

"Just as technology has affected golf ball, club and shaft design, so too has it had a profound impact on the golf course superintendent profession. Computerized irrigation, new varieties of grasses and the advent of global positioning systems has allowed for improved maintenance practices. The continual technologic advances, plus advanced education opportunities for superintendents will enable the superintendent to better serve the game of golf. In addition, economic forces will continue to make the superintendent a key to the success of a golf facility."

Steve Mona, CAE, CEO

Golf Course Superintendents Association of America


The era of Tiger Woods has ushered in a renewed interest in a game that was once consigned to the leisure class. Wood's youthful mastery of the game has infused the sport with a popularity that is driving a new generation of players out to the links.

In 1999 the Woods phenomenon was largely responsible for $22.2 billion in golf related consumer spending (Report from NGF). This unbridled optimism about the sport has resulted in the construction of over 400 new golf courses in the past year.

Although design opportunities seem limited to a small avante guarde of golf professionals, ie. Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, etc.., the demand for experienced golf course designers, superintendents and contractors continues to grow. As commercial and residential construction begins to taper off the end of 2001, Landscape Architects may find golf course construction to be a ready alternative.


"Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get."

 "By Studying past warm episodes scientists have discovered precipitation and temperature anomaly patterns that are highly consistent from one episode to another. Within the tropics, the eastward shift of thunderstorm activity from Indonesia into the central Pacific during warm episodes results in abnormally dry conditions over northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philipines in both seasons. Drier than normal conditions are also observed over southeastern Africa and northern Brazil, during the northern wintern season. Wetter than normal conditions during warm episodes are observed along the west coast of tropical South America, and at subtropical latitudes of North America (Gulf Coast) and South America (southern Brazil to cental Argentina)".

There is perhaps no natural phenomena that is the subject of more speculation and misinterpretation than the weather. Because weather systems are non-linear or "chaotic", a truly comprehensive understanding of the global climate may never be achieved with the kind of precision that was once expected. However, computer models have been constructed that do a fair job of producing generalizations about weather patterns over the short term.

The chart indicates the probable precipitation and temperature patterns over the course of the next year. Shaded regions show areas of increasing activity.

During the last El Nino season of 1997-1998, North America was subject to an unusually wet rainy season, which submerged the country in a series of unrelenting tropical storms that deposited record amounts of rainfall. The flip side of El Nino has been La Nina, which brought cooler ocean temperatures and a much drier winter with considerably less precipitation in 1999-2000. Although the attendant lack of water cost nurserymen more on irrigation last year, the drier season also resulted in less damage to crops from weeds, mildew and fungus. This helped nurserymen to recoup their costs on herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. According to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, pesticide use throughout California declined by more than 11.7 million pounds from 1998 to 1999. This marked the first decline in three years. The EPA attributes this decline to stricter controls on the use of high-toxicity chemicals.

According to the latest information from the Climate Prediction Center, a return to near-normal conditions should be expected by the early part of 2001. A "normal" weather condition this year will probably mean an increasing expenditure on various fungicides and herbicides over the previous year's low. Consequently, certified spray technicians will be in greater demand this coming year. Also expect an increase in the demand for erosion control specialists.

Even though rains are expected to be moderate, wildfires throughout much of the country this past year have destabilized vast acreages, large portions of which are beyond the angle of repose, meaning that many states will be dealing with an "emergency" situation. Many municipalities will find it necessary to dig themselves out once the mud begins to flow. The lease and purchase of backhoes and other heavy equipment will also be a result of this factor, the most critical point occurring in the spring when the ice pack begins to thaw.

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June 27, 2019, 2:07 am PDT

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