Two Years of Urban Landscapes

November 14, 2021

The holidays are coming and today, I reflect back on the past two years. Urban Landscapes, LLC was technically created as a business December 1, 2019. I state that it was “technically” created because the idea and even somewhat of the name of the company has existed since March, 2010. In the height of the great recession as it was referred, I had left the company Thomas & Thomas. I have very fond memories of working at Thomas & Thomas and worked with great people along the way. It was at T&T that I learned the land development entitlement process and got the thirst for community meetings and advocating for projects at Planning Commission and City Council. This was my second job out of college and in many ways, it along with my first at HDR in Omaha, really framed Urban Landscapes.

As referenced above, I left Thomas & Thomas in 2010 to start my own company, Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes. It was this company (you’ll note the last two words of that company name), where I began to try to get a foot hold on the market, purposely narrowing my focus of projects that were infill oriented and would have a net positive impact in my community – Colorado Springs. Not all projects at Olson Planning were however ones that I loved, but I had a blog – this blog – to help me focus on what I really wanted for myself and my community. I can’t believe this blog has been going since 2010, at some point I’ll clean up some of my ramblings.

Olson Planning (or I) was a contractor for the Sustainable Fort Carson Team from 2010 to 2013. My good friend, Frank Kinder, was thinking of me for this position for some more guaranteed money each month as I got the foundation for Olson Planning established. This was an excellent experience where I worked with some of the most intelligent and community-minded people that I have met to date, such a great group!

I also had the good fortune to be an affiliate to EVstudio from 2010 to 2012, where one of my fellow co-founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism-Colorado Chapter, Sean O’Hara, happened to have a need to fill their multi-discipline company. Being an affiliate of EVstudio meant that when working on EVstudio projects, I worked under their brand and provided a financial cut to the EVstudio company. It was a worthwhile proposition while starting out and I began to see their marketing engines at work to a point that in 2012, Olson Planning became a one-third partner in a separate company with the two owners of EVstudio, Dean Dalvit and Sean O’Hara as EVstudio Planning.

Financially, this was of great benefit to all, however I still wasn’t satisfied. I grew tired of the grind of being a business owner and was naïve of the tax laws, and I had enough work that I needed to bring on an employee to help out. This made me very nervous. I was actually tempted to just break completely away from grind of it all and find a government 8-5 job. That, by the way, would not have been a good move for me.

Instead, I dissolved Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes as well as EVstudio Planning after discussing my frustrations and concerns with the owners of Altitude Engineering, who were also a part of the EVstudio family, operating as EVstudio Civil Engineering. They suggested a salary position with their company where I could operate it as I had been without the accounting, marketing, etc. It sounded great, and it actually worked great for quite some time, until I realized that I was still doing the same amount of work, but now also had a staff to manage and keep bringing in work – work that I didn’t necessarily want to do – work that I wasn’t passionate about. I also felt the slip of some of the control and project focus that I desired.

And so, Urban Landscapes, LLC was born and has been evolving through a global pandemic. We have had about thirty (30) projects over the last two years in varying scales ranging from the scale of a new town in Northern Colorado – Hylandtown – to the small neighborhood grocery store in Downtown Colorado Springs – Bread & Butter. It has been a lot of work, but it has all been meaningful. There isn’t a single client or project that we’re doing that I don’t enjoy – which is incredibly important for the long-term viability of the company. Yes that does unfortunately mean that I don’t take on every project that comes my way anymore. I feel bad when I have to turn down a project, but I know that I and my staff (staff of one at the moment) will be best when it is high-quality meaningful work.

I hope to have the opportunity to host a ping pong tournament or a social visit with many of you in this coming year at our new-ish office located in Gold Hill Mesa. Gold Hill Mesa being one of our larger clients at this time has been a wonderful place for an office, in part because it’s a five-block walk from my house. My first office was in the same building, but a very small windowless room through 2020 until July of 2021. It was July when I opened up the current suite that we’re in today, Suite 175. Additional space was needed for growth. As was my desire for a proper office with good light and a place for a conference (ping pong) table.

Within days of the new lease and office space, Urban Landscapes hired Sherry MacWilliam, who has been an absolute rock star! I have introduced Sherry to some of you over the past few months, and I can’t wait to introduce her to more of you. She complements my planning and landscape architecture skill sets very well with her strong horticultural background and experience with construction companies. It is my hope that she will be contributing to this blog in the upcoming months as well with some of her passions for therapy gardens and vast knowledge of plant material.

If you look closely, you can see the “conference table” through the window of our new office at 142 S. Raven Mine, Suite 175. Many more improvements will be coming to the space in the coming year.

There you have my ramblings for the week. I wish for you all to have a wonderful and safe upcoming Holiday Season. I hope to see and hear from you all soon!

-John

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