Boom – Bust – Repeat.

An excerpt from The Western Planner article Boom – Bust – Repeat.  How an innovative new planning methodology takes aim at breaking this cycle for Western communities” by Marc Diemer (DHM) and Brian Wilkerson – October 2014 IssueMarcD5

The Western regional identity is as varied and storied as its landscape, shaped through a history of rapid MarcD4and transformational change which includes alternating periods of “boom” and “bust”.

Today, the Western region’s metro areas and remote communities alike are seeking economic diversity as a more sustainable strategy, hoping the next ‘bust’ in the cycle never comes. Often, development projects that win favor are those with near-term economic gains, while their long-term impacts are not considered.  Some remote communities have turned to gaming, and others are hopeful that increased oil & gas development will be the economic boost their community needs. This “trickle-down” approach to planning seeks to maximize economic success and assumes that benefits to other community values and goals will follow, but this is not always the case

In order to build community resilience and avoid cyclical economic busts, long-range planning decisions must address issues including: water resources, energy development, natural resources management, health care service, and population growth. By placing non-economic goals first, this allows the community to empirically determine which programs will help them achieve those goals.

This new methodology aims to improve decision making.  Planners and city managers can explore alternate MarcD2development scenarios and investment choices, which could range from different projects to entirely different development approaches or philosophies. By only prioritizing short and mid-term economic success, leaders may be inadvertently putting their communities at risk for an economic bust and ignoring broader community needs.  With this new approach, a thorough understanding of the impact of all projects and initiatives on all community goals and values is uncovered, thereby improving decision making.

The primary benefit of this model over traditional planning approaches is the insight it provides decision makers to the impacts and trade-offs and the powerful understanding of the long-term impacts on both economic and non-economic goals.

Sustainability need not be just an aspirational buzzword in the West.   We can achieve enduring and resilient communities by using improved decision-making approaches that dutifully consider the impact of all interventions on a full range of community goals and values.  The West’s frontier mythology of independence and self-reliance can be celebrated and live on, but far better to leave the economic boom and bust part of the story in the past.


Spruces Vs. Pines: All in the name

In my every day body of work, I speak to people all the time about vegetation of various landscapes.  Whether its in the broadest context of plant ecology on a large scale or the dead tree in someone’s backyard – vegetation is either a life-saving element or merely a distraction that involves the color green.  I LOVE to talk about plants.  I can really get rolling about some of the most intricate details of plant ecology.  It might be hard to shut me up if you start talking about wetland plants, forests, succession, plant ecology, leaves, dead house plants, tree sap on the hood of the car… (you get the idea).

I am also pretty patient about terminology and nomenclature of plants. I know that most people aren’t as passionate as me in this area, so misused plant terminology generally doesn’t bother me.

However, I am human and I do indeed have a certain pet-peeve that has developed through my years in the profession.

There is a BIG difference between “Pines” and “Spruces”.  People often confuse these trees and use their terms interchangeably. I believe its important to know the difference between these two families of gymnosperms as they are each unique and separated by important features. Being someone who finds the difference so important, I will give a quick lesson on how to tell the difference between a Spruce and a Pine.

An easy way to decipher between spruces and pines is by their needles. Spruce needles are shorter and stiffer than that of pines and are directly attached to the branch by a small wood protrusion. Spruces have flexible cones with thin scales that point downwards. The bark is smooth on younger trees and tends to get rougher as the tree ages.

Spruc collage

Spruce Characteristics


Pine Characteristics

Pines needles are attached to stems in groups of up to five needles. Each needle is 1-3 inches long and tends to be flat and more flexible than those of the Spruce. The cones are rigid and woody. The bark of a pine is rough but not as furrowed and flaky as the spruce tree.

There you have it, a short lesson on the unique qualities and terminology of Spruces and Pines!

The Bregenz Festival


Courtesy of

You never know what you are going to find when you are doing research for your park projects.

In my research, I discovered the Bregenz Festival and its venue. The festival began in 1946 staged on two barges on Lake Constance in Austria.  The festival occurs annually at its incredible venue. It seats 7,000 people and includes a stage that becomes its own unique sculptural element.  The stage is reconstructed every two years with a new design theme.  The popular opera and theater performances run during the months of July and August and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.  About 30 years ago the set design for The Magic Flute took the stage design to a new level; one which designers continue to aspire. The surrounding lake is incorporated into the performances as part of the stage.

This is a definite item on my bucket list.  This concept is what we strive for as designers of the land; the combination of art, landscape, culture, water, and a focal point in a changing environment. We aim to create places where people are brought together to collectively experience these phenomena.

To see more images of the Bregenz Festival click HERE

For more history on the Festival Click HERE


The Villa Lante Landscape

DSC05399When looking for inspiration, my favorite historic garden is Villa Lante in Tuscany.

The villa and garden were built in the mid 1500’s for Cardinal Gambara and designed by Vignola and fountain designer, Tommaso Ghinucci.

What I like about it is the scale, and the way the garden progresses from a wild and natural hunting bosque to a formal geometric garden. This progression from rough and natural landscape to highly ordered garden still applies to spaces we design today, where people seek a range of outdoor experiences and contemplate man and nature. The pavilions feature colorful murals with elaborate symbols honoring key renaissance families. This garden provides a strong historic reference when designing larger private residences, parks, and campus spaces. Compared to other renaissance gardens, this one is relatively small which adds to its charm.

Do you have a favorite landscape that inspires you for your current projects, either historic or contemporary?

Thanks to Cammie Christner for use of her photos!

Read more about Villa Lante HERE

Corrales, New Mexico

Tree FarmDSC_1877

Tucked away, cradled between the Rio Grande River and fast-growing metropolitan areas, lies the quaint and beautiful village of Corrales, New Mexico. Because of the busy neighboring areas such as Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, it might be easy to pass by Corrales without ever knowing it was there, which is okay with many of its locals. Indeed, one of its distinguishing and treasured qualities is the relatively small population, low crime-rate and rural lifestyle. The Village government and population generally oppose the establishment of chain businesses and large housing developments as well.

Corrales encourages small, local businesses to flourish in its city-limits. Lining Corrales Road are gourmet restaurants, art galleries, bike shops and wineries. Even with these modern establishments, the village honors the rural nature of its past.

Corrales holds a rich history. Spanish explorers claimed the area in 1540 and in 1713 it became part of Mexico as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Before being settled by Europeans, Corrales was home to the Tiguex Indians. The different cultures that have occupied the area still influence Corrales today, reflected in the adobe style homes and churches, use of acequias (irrigation ditches), and crops of chile, corn and hay.

The reason for its success in agriculture is its location next to the Rio Grande River. Parallel to the river are strips of land referred to as Bosques. In summer, the Corrales Bosque creates a beautiful canopy of cottonwood trees which overlooks winding walking and bike trails that follow the path of the river. In winter when the trees are bare, the Bosque is a wonderful place to bird-watch for migrating ducks and geese.

The Village is welcoming to tourists and shares its warm community environment during its annual Harvest Festival, Fourth of July and Starlight parades, and growers’ markets – all without disrupting the lifestyle of its locals.

To me, Corrales is a wonderful escape from the busy world around it. Everything seems to move slower in the village; living is more deliberate and celebrated. When I think of Corrales, I’m surrounded by thoughts of apple orchards, river rope-swings, roasted green chile, and raspberry farms.

Corrales is a wonderful place to vacation and make memories, especially if one is looking to slow down and enjoy the beauty of nature and community.

There are so many things I could say to encourage visitors to stop through the best small town in New Mexico.

Then again, I may be a little partial to this place, my hometown.


You can learn more about visiting Corrales HERE on the Village website, or take a virtual tour of Corrales HERE

You can read more about the Corrales bosque in this BROCHURE written by my grandfather, Dr. James S. Findley