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Landscape Architecture - Protecting Public Health, Safety & Welfare

People often wonder what the difference is between landscape architects and other landscape professionals. The primary distinction is that landscape architecture is a licensed profession, with similar requirements to licensed architects and engineers. Licensure is now required in all 50 States, either to use of the title “Landscape Architect”, to practice landscape architecture, or both. Though landscape designers and contractors may have professional certifications, local business licenses, experience and education, essentially anyone may call themselves a landscape designer or a landscape contractor. To be licensed, a landscape architect must demonstrate a minimum level of professional competency to the state. Licensure requirements typically include a formal degree in landscape architecture or a related profession, 3 years of experience working directly under a licensed landscape architect or a related professional and passage of a rigorous, peer reviewed examination. State licensure boards are established to protect the public health, safety and welfare. State licensure boards also maintain current records, as a means for the public to verify that practitioners are licensed. Typically, a licensed landscape architect is required to be in charge of all projects, with exceptions for residential and multifamily projects of up to 4 units. Using licensed professionals, not only protects the public, but also can reduce the liability for property owners and their agents. Also, landscape architects often collaborate with other design professionals, contractors and specialists, and help insure that health safety and welfare concerns receive due attention throughout the design and construction process.

Since it is not always clear how the work of landscape architects relates to public health safety and welfare, I have provided some examples below.

Health: Aspects of landscape architecture that promote physical, mental and social health and well-being include: protecting potable water systems from contamination, minimizing exposure of people, plants and animals to toxic chemicals and materials in the built environment, planning for adequate active and passive recreational areas within a community or development, establishing healthy soils and vegetation and providing environments that reduce stress and promote healing.

Safety: Aspects of landscape architecture that limit or prevent accidental injury and death among users include: insuring clear lines of sight for vehicle operators and pedestrians to help avoid accidents, insuring outdoor structures are designed according to current safety standards and best management practices, providing clear construction details, specifications and follow up inspections to insure proper installation, insuring that designs conform to local building and development codes, protecting users from natural site hazards, designing safe play areas, preventing injury from slips, trips and falls from heights, insuring safety of outdoor electrical components, providing adequate exterior lighting, site security and safety, design for crime prevention and anti-terrorism protection and design for fire protection.

Welfare: Aspects of landscape architecture that protect and improve the public welfare include: protecting natural resources, providing adequate community access to open space and natural areas, maintaining healthy ecosystem function, biodiversity and wildlife populations, promoting environmental sustainability and conservation of natural resources, compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessible site design, erosion and sediment control, protecting water quality, improving surface and subsoil drainage, reducing energy consumption, reducing urban heat island effect, optimizing carbon sequestration, improving community aesthetics, curb appeal and property values, and reducing long-term maintenance and operating expenses.

Note licensure only insures “minimal competency” with regard to protecting public health, safety and welfare. Many states require continuing education for license renewal, as a means to help insure that practitioners keep up with health, safety and welfare concerns. Regardless of state requirements, licensure confers a fiduciary responsibility for stewardship of the public trust, and it is incumbent upon all licensed professionals to stay abreast of current regulations, trends and best management practices related to protecting the public health, safety and welfare.

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