Dana Nunez Brown
|President, Dana Brown & Associates|
Hometown: New Orleans
You worked in California for 15 years before returning to Baton Rouge. What brought you back?
Well, I moved to Baton Rouge in 2002, though I had never lived here except as a student at LSU. I had an offer to teach—my passion—at LSU in the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. It was also time to move back home and be near to my Mom. My father had recently died, and it did not feel good to be so far away while he was ill. I started my firm while still teaching, but left teaching six years ago to practice full-time. I truly did not think I would be this happy back in Louisiana because I did love Southern California. But I am now truly at home.
Do you get the sense that project managers in Louisiana are paying more attention to environmental concerns in recent years than in the past? If so, what accounts for this shift in mind-set, and how does the shift affect your profession?
Yes, they are paying more attention, but it is still too superficial. The environment is complex, just as our culture is complex. Being an optimist, I believe there is always a way to find an optimal solution that enhances the ecological health of the environment while also providing great places for people to work, live and play. We are not there yet.
What are your thoughts on FuturEBR? Is it the right blueprint for future growth? If so, how confident are you that the plan will be implemented consistently and effectively?
I think it is a strong, comprehensive plan, but it is only a framework within which much has to be done. I must disclose that we worked on the parks/recreation and the environmental components. BREC has parks and recreation well under control. I don't think environmental conservation and protection were emphasized enough, particularly regarding storm-water management as well as water quality and quantity. We cannot afford to build and maintain all the catch basins and pipes it would take to drain all the rooftops and impervious paving we are building all across the parish. All the while we are continually polluting our water bodies.
The important steps of making significant changes, difficult changes, to our approach to investment of public funds and development of private lands—I wonder whether it will be possible. For instance, Mid City should be, could be, an amazing place to live and work. It is on its way to being so, but too slowly. We need to be building complete streets—for pedestrians, bicyclists, and those who are older and less mobile. We still build roads just for cars, which precludes building these neighborhoods into livable communities. We are going to need walkable neighborhoods and transit as the population ages.
Be open to new ideas. Stop saying you cannot do "that" here. Stop just saying no to all the progressive ideas. They have all traveled to Austin, Charlotte, Nashville and other cities; but many seem to return to Baton Rouge and resort to the old, tired, uninviting way of running the city. We cannot even get a library built downtown, when the voters voted for that years ago. My question would be, Why does it bother you to build a downtown library if you don't care about using it because you have or are getting a new library in your neighborhood? Those that opposed the CATS transit proposal: What is your solution? How do people without access to private transportation (check out the census and also think about getting older and unable to drive) get to the doctor or grocery or work? Look at the actual facts and problems we have to solve, evaluate all the possible alternatives, and encourage professionals to suggest innovative, progressive alternatives. Then make a rational decision.
Are there any simple things that home and business owners can do to better manage water issues on their own properties?
Integrate plantings with storm-water management. Drain runoff (from roofs and paved surfaces as well as lawns) toward planted areas. Use native plants in those areas. Stop using all the fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide products on lawns.
Why do you do what you do?
I love the broad range of projects and topics I can work on as a landscape architect. I strongly believe in living with nature, living with water, designing livable communities and landscapes that invigorate and inspire. I still love what I have been doing for 33 years.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
I am still working on it right now with my firm: integrating science and design in ways I believe no other company is doing in Louisiana. I am always learning and applying innovative strategies to problems and issues.
What was your first job?
Working at Sears department store in Clearview Mall as an undercover security person. I was 16! No weapons were involved.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
The 8020 rule—and I tell it to my staff. Just because someone is a ______ 80% of the time, you, too, are a ______ if you cannot recognize the 20% of the time when they are not. [Fill in the blank: could be "idiot", "jerk", "fool", etc.] This is invaluable in keeping you open minded and less judgmental.
If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?
I would love to be a hydrologist/geomorphologist.
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you've overcome?
Attending and graduating from Harvard University Graduate School of Design while starting out with $750 to live on. I worked at several jobs at the same time to pay expenses, including teaching fellow, landscape architect at a Boston firm, and modeler at the Harvard Lab for Computer Graphics.
If you started over, what would you do differently?
Slow down and breathe a bit more.
What is your prescription for life?
Have an insatiable hunger for learning.
What book are you currently reading?
I am reading The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt on how the discovery 600 years ago of the last copy of the ancient Roman book On the Nature of Things by Lucretius was the catalyst for the world becoming modern.
Who would play you in a movie?
Maybe Jody Foster. Some say I sound like her when I talk.
What do you do to unwind?
Listen to music.
What is the most expensive purchase you've made for yourself?
Going on a trip to Greece and Turkey two years ago with other LSU landscape architects and my daughter. It was fantastic and worth every penny.
What is your favorite weekend activity?
Bike riding, though I don't do it enough.
What's your favorite spot in Baton Rouge?
North Boulevard Town Square, of course!
How do you take your coffee/tea?
No coffee. Just iced tea, unsweetened, no lemon, with a sugar substitute.
What is your favorite movie? TV show? Band?
Movie would have to be The Sound of Music. TV show would have to be Fareed Zakaria, GPS on Sunday mornings on CNN. Band would have to be Red Hot Chili Peppers.
What is your favorite gadget?
What is something that you can't live without?
My ability to think.
If you could change one thing about Baton Rouge, what would it be?
I would invest in the neighborhoods we have and support development of infill sites. It seems we abandon neighborhoods and build out in the far reaches of the parish where there are little or no sewer, drainage, water, transportation, police, fire, and schools infrastructure and services; then we complain about lack of services and traffic congestion that are the logical result. I am hoping infill developments closer to existing neighborhoods and downtown will be catalyzed by the transit system I hope we build. I think we also have to understand and act upon the fact that we all benefit when downtown flourishes and disadvantaged neighborhoods are revitalized. We should stop pitting council districts against one another. I would support having at least two at-large council seats and fewer councilpersons. I am sure I will get flack from some people for that comment.
What is your greatest hope for Baton Rouge?
That a first-class transit system is built and maintained, attracting more and more ridership by people who have cars and choose the less expensive, more sustainable option of transit transportation.
What is your greatest fear for Baton Rouge?
That the old guard will continue to assert power and influence over what happens in Baton Rouge, thus making the city-parish less attractive for younger generations and more progressive people. I have seen that direction changing, so I hope the slow movement keeps going.
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