Meet the Civitots: Jason Newsome
When I was looking to move from New England, I wanted to work in a creative studio environment that dealt heavily with landscape architecture and urban design. One of my college professors at the University of Massachusetts suggested I look at Civitas because of their design approach and ability to take on complicated urban design and landscape work. It took me seven years to heed that advice. I ended up taking a different opportunity and I moved to a job in New York City, and then later moved to Wyoming for 5 years where I rode out the recession on a lot of soft snow. Once I made the decision to pursue my masters of urban design at the University of Colorado in Denver, I was finally able to connect with Civitas where I have now been for the last decade. The connections I made back east while attending the University of Massachusetts and my participation in an international urban design competition in Boston led me to the path I am on now. It’s a very small world in the realm of architecture – in fact, every boss I have ever had has known one another! From New York, Wyoming, Massachusetts and now Denver.
How would you describe your personal approach to design?
Every project warrants a unique approach depending on the clientele, context, issues and intended outcome. But it seems that exploration and understanding are always a common thread. Through my career, I have had the opportunity to work on very different project types, from high end residential design in Jackson Hole to neighborhood planning in the northside of St. Louis. With the ability to learn, study and explore an area or the context of a project, the design, problems and solutions start to reveal themselves. There is more or less an ego-less approach. As a designer doing national and international work we know the locals and clients typically know that place better than we would be able to, so my approach is to always do my best to learn what the place is about from them directly. You can’t go in with a design and set of solutions without truly and deeply understanding the place first.
What experiences (or people, or places) have had the most influence on you and/or your design approach?
Before I had a full understanding of what landscape architecture was, I had taken a trip to Barcelona and I was absolutely mesmerized by the layout, the weaving of parks, the liveliness, and the urbanity (a word I did not use at the time). I didn’t realize at the time that those aspects, apart from the buildings, were intentionally designed.. More than anything, traveling has always had a big effect on how I look at places in terms of design and influencing what we can bring to places. I have also had great mentors here in the Civitas office and I have been able to work with Mark Johnson and learned a lot about approaches to design, development and politics in projects. Dick Farley, who used to be a principal at Civitas and also the head of urban design for the city of Denver, has also been a mentor of mine and has helped me better understand the approach to urban design.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far, either at work or in life in general?
On a personal level, the last four and a half years my wife and I have been working on getting our major home addition designed and finished. We have had the joy of working with our architect friends, and we took on all of the city submittals and coordination ourselves. It feels like a huge accomplishment now that we are very close to being done with the work. On a professional level, it’s tough to pinpoint one great achievement because everything done professionally is the work of many individuals, so no one person is making something happen – it is always a team effort. But one moment I am fairly proud of while my time here at Civitas took place in the middle of the pandemic. During the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic there was an uncomfortable stir in the office on what the future looked like, and there were issues in the office that people wanted addressed. It was clear that we all needed to come together and so I invited everyone from the office to come over to my house for a “socially distanced” backyard happy hour and discussion. I took on the responsibility to solve the qualms on how to organize outside of the leadership team, and we all came together as a studio to work on a pitch to try to resolve some of these overarching questions. I ended up presenting a “manifesto” to leadership, and it led to an incredibly impactful and strong conversation about the office culture, how to move forward, and really determining what was/wasn’t working at the office behind the scenes. We all signed the written manifesto that essentially would hold us all accountable. It really made a great impact on the culture of the company as a whole and I was proud to have helped orchestrate and lead the effort.
What accomplishments do you hope or aspire to reach in the future?
One, is to never stop learning. Design is an endless pursuit of different types of projects, and there is always something new to learn. I aspire to be a leading principal of the firm, or elsewhere, to bring in and lead new exciting projects that solve big urban issues and push the possibilities of design .
What are your favorite types of design projects to work on, or design challenges to solve?
My favorite type of project is one that solves multiple issues. For example, it’s not just designing a park, but also a system for a transit corridor that connects parts of the city, brings economic development, and has a profound impact on how the city operates. I wouldn’t say I have a preferred typology of a project, I instead prefer generally anything that connects/brings more life to urban areas, and makes life more comfortable. One of my favorite projects is the 5280 Trail; a 5 mile urban trail around downtown Denver that connects five neighborhoods with linear parks, plazas, bike lanes, and trails that connect parts of the city that are today not viewed as connected simply due to their lack of walkability. It’s a really exciting project we are excited to see start to form that will change how people move around the city and experience downtown, while taking a lot of land back from automobiles and bringing in more nature and walkability. That project came about before the pandemic, and following the pandemic people started to learn and see first hand just how important outdoor space is. There are only one or two major precedents and similar places in the US, so it’s exciting to be paving the way for the future of cities at large.
What do you do outside of work to have fun, or relax, or learn, or volunteer?
My wife and I love to go camping and we are very “Colorado” in the sense that we love all outdoor activities such as mountain biking, camping, skiing, and snowboarding in the winter. When we have the time, we love to travel – I just got back from visiting Mexico where I was able to get in some surfing!
What are you reading or listening to these days?
I am reading “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf, about the life of Alexander von Humbolt, a naturalist who in the late 1700s started to draw connections between global ecosystems, through exploration, technical scientific documentation, art, illustration and poetry. He’s not a well known scientist, but had a big influence on Darwin and others who came after. His global adventures and scientific observations led him to discuss relevant topics to today, such as the climate effects of human civilization on health and biodiversity and the connectedness of global systems.
What is your favorite food to eat, or recipe to cook?
I cook a lot but I most enjoy cooking anything with fire. I have an outdoor cooking pit and an outdoor pizza oven for parties. I’m a Jersey guy who loves pizza – in fact my first job was serving pizza slices on the boardwalk in Jersey.
Describe one item that you never leave home without.
Unfortunately, I lose too many notebooks to say that’s the case, but I always have my phone on me which you can also use for sketching. When traveling, I occasionally like to sketch my view from the airplane through an app on my phone.
Random thing on your desk
On my desk I have a 3 inch tall 3D print of myself. I was at a bar and there was a Geek Fest going on and these guys invited me to take a 3D scan of myself holding a pose, and they printed out a 3-inch copy of myself. It’s pretty awesome.
1200 Bannock St.,
Denver, CO 80204
Civitas is always looking for talented individuals to join our creative team. If you (or someone you know) is seeking a meaningful career in landscape architecture and urban planning, feel free send your resume to email@example.com. We hope to hear from you!