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Get Your Boots on the Ground . . .

By George Schmok

So . . . Just got back from the ASLA Annual Meeting in San Diego. First of all, let me say that ASLA sure knows how to fill an exhibit hall with vendors. Unfortunately, either their claim of record landscape architectural attendance was not accurate, or the vast majority of the landscape architects attending the show never took the time to visit the exhibit hall.

Now, I know that due to the economy membership is down. And being a trade show producer I have become acutely aware of how attendee numbers can be manipulated to make it sound as though there were more bodies in the hall than there really were.

That’s one reason we had badge scanners at the entrance of the Landscape Expo - Long Beach, and scanned every attendee every time they entered the hall. This was so we would know exactly how many real attendees (i.e., individual souls) were at the show and how often they came and went.

Unfortunately, in the world of trade shows many producers will count with clickers and then report some number that really reflects the total number of bodies, not souls, that walked through the doors, regardless of how many times they did so. For example, in California, the contractors association held a show last year that was absolutely dead by 10:00 a.m., but they allegedly are spreading the word that 5,000 people walked through the doors. I mean, who am I supposed to believe . . . Them or my lying eyes . . .

But I digress . . . With the ASLA I have no doubt that there were thousands of landscape architects walking around San Diego. The rub, though, is that for some reason there is a stigma among the profession that the exhibit hall is for second-class citizens. This is a shame, because in the hall this year were about 450 exhibitors who, from sculptors to soil amendments, filled the gamut of specifiable products.

Now, I get it that many landscape architects are artists and the seminars on conceptual design and process are extremely important. But in the exhibit hall this year one could see the trends and opportunities presented to the profession that, in a general sense, could not be discovered by attending seminars or visiting project sites. I mean, you could attend a hundred seminars on buying a car and drive by a dozen car lots, but until you go out and sit in one, experience the anthropometrics of the cockpit and back seat, feel the crispness of the steering and surge of the engine, buying a car without the test drive is at best a crap shoot.

In the exhibit hall this year was an abundance of really cool stuff, of which knowing the nuances of the products specified could mean the difference between a good project and project that not only looks pretty at installation, but also works as it should down to the last detail.

For instance there had be at least a dozen manufacturers presenting different kinds of rainwater capture apparatus. Pillows, tanks, filtration, recirculation, long-term storage, runoff diversion and reapplication are all terms you can learn in a seminar. But in the same two hours of classroom learning, you could have 12 demonstrations of different systems. And while your clients pay you for concept, they also pay you for technical expertise. If you don’t know the nuances, someone else will step in who does and take those fees.

At the show there were numerous versions of pervious paving. The technology is really becoming sophisticated and varied. Today manufacturers make bricks that are lighter, stronger and more porous. Asphalt is porous, bonded aggregate is porous, hardened soils are porous, rubber safety surfaces are porous . . . Some day they will probably make sheet metal that is porous . . . But knowing the material is only half the battle, as knowing the substructure is what will eventually determine the success of the spec. All of it could be found in the exhibit hall.

Play has become a science as well. A few years ago, you could put up a jungle gym, a slide and a few swings and have a playground. At the show you could learn, touch and sense how the “science of play” has evolved into accessible, sensory-stimulating, educational, age-related, muscle-building, fat-burning, socially-interactive, sun-blocking science.

Water conservation that led to artificial turf has now caused the turf grass growers to use science to produce varieties that survive months without water yet still hold 45% of their green due to decreased evapotranspiration, increased root penetration and slowing of the growth cycle. In fact, there was a new association in the exhibit hall specifically designed to independently test and rate turf grass for these qualities . . .

Did I mention the benefits of tracking bicycle traffic at large institutions to help lower insurance costs to the institution? Or how LED lights lose their longevity if they are dimmed, or how architectural concrete is being lightened to accommodate green-roof applications . . .

Of course, one of the benefits of low exhibit hall attendance is you can always look to LASN for much of this knowledge. I personally walked the hall, booth by booth, soaking up the technology for two solid days, just so we could be at the forefront of delivering the information to you. However, magazines are more like compasses; they are definitely needed to navigate the forest. But adding the trade show is like adding a map and a good pair of boots to the journey.

In any event, knowing the patterns of traffic, designing the space to meet the needs of the client, repairing the scarred earth and providing the visual “Wow” factor are important elements to the landscape architectural profession and the fees you collect. Just be sure you continue to take the time to examine the building blocks, as they are things that will keep the “Wow” from becoming the “Whoa” . . .

God Bless . . .

George Schmok, Publisher

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November 19, 2019, 10:19 pm PDT

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