Mcgill's landscape architects

Life Grows Here: Noticing the Important Work of Landscape Architects


April is World Landscape Architecture Month, so we are celebrating McGill team members who use their expertise to help make our towns and cities better places to live. There is a lot that goes into designing a public, outdoor space, as every community has unique needs and desires. One of the most important things landscape architects do is spend time engaging with and listening to communities to figure out what they want their futures to look like.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people thought about communities and gathering spaces. For a while, gathering could only happen if it was outside, which meant people were spending more time at parks, on trails, and in green spaces. With so much going on in the world, with so much fear circulating in enclosed spaces, the refuge of outdoor spaces was realized. As we distance ourselves from the pandemic’s isolation periods, the importance of outdoor space lingers.


Jim ford, landscape architect, talking to mike norris
Jim Ford talking to Mike Norris

Jim Ford has been on the land planning and recreation team at McGill for 16 years, and he describes himself as a placemaker, meaning he views the land as a stage for places, like parks, to exist. As a placemaker, he talks with clients about their goals, and then he turns toward his creative imagination, mapping out what kind of experience they want to have.

For example, if he asked someone to describe their favorite place and they described a lake where they could walk around and see hanging moss or the occasional alligator spine, Jim would have an idea of what is important to them in an outdoor space and design accordingly. In this case, he would design a multiuse trail around the lake, place benches at scenic spots, and have railed docks that venture off trail for a closer look at the alligators. Being a landscape architect involves close listening and imagination, both of which help a community’s goals come to fruition.


Kurtis Durrant, PLA, has been with McGill for six years, and he believes it is important to have ample outdoor space near where people live and work. Most of our time is spent indoors, and having accessible outdoor spaces is vital for community health and connectedness.

If you walk past a park complex on a warm, sunny day, you will likely see crowds of people playing. The basketball court will have an active game and people waiting for the next game to open up. There will be kids pushing smaller kids on swings, and smiling faces will be riding down slides. There will be blankets beneath families, friends, and food as they enjoy quality time in a new setting. Having outdoor spaces with amenities that feed a community’s culture help bring a place to life.


Goat island park ribbon cutting 05012015 52
Goat Island Park in Cramerton

Landscape architects are important in growing and fostering communities, which is shown through the positive impacts their work has on those who live and work near competed projects. Kurtis went back to visit a park after working on its design, and when he got there, he learned it had become a central part of the community. It became a location where people take pictures with their families and before school dances. The park became a place where community members could come together and find, or realize, beauty.

Jim talks about a concept called triangulation, which means things happening in threes. For landscape architects, it means there is the landscape architect, the client, and a park. With those three players in action, there is the possibility for human connection and chance happenings. He lets triangulation fuel his placemaking — he is inspired in his intention to create human encounters, to create fun spaces for people to meet and interact.

Landscape architects, which are part of McGill’s land planning and recreation team, are not just making places better, they are creating places where community members and visitors can have positive experiences and create memories. Their work is instrumental in communities, even though it often goes unnoticed. For the rest of April, notice the outdoor spaces in your town or city and think about how they make your life better.


For more information on how we can shape your community with our landscape architecture services, please contact Mike Norris, PLA, Director of Land Planning and Recreation, at

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