Current Vocation:
Director of Operations, Deikel Design & Development. Residential Luxury Home Building

What were you doing before you applied to the Conway School?
I lost my position as a personal assistant to an interior designer in Seattle in early ’09 due to the ’08 crash. I started an upcycled jewelry line, volunteering with People for Puget Sound, UofW Arboretum, a free art museum -The Frye.

What brought you to Conway?
Volunteering led me to taking a History of Landscape Architecture class at the University of Washington. This guided me towards traditional MLA programs. Combined with my undergrad degrees in studio art and anthropology, I was driven towards the most ecological and creative field in placemaking design.

How did you first learn about Conway?
While researching and applying to MLA programs my college friend referred me to Conway because his then girlfriend/now wife, Liz Kushner, had recently graduated. I researched and I immediately clicked with Conway.

Imagine we just met, and recognized we had common interests. How would you describe Conway to me?
Conway is applied learning in designing ecologically. Using nature as our guide, we learn how to solve the issues of placemaking today. The focus on humanities is a crucial component to executing design and students will come out prepared to communicate the language of ecological design to the world at large.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out in the field?
Don’t get discouraged. I’ve been laughed at bringing up living buildings to real estate equity builders. Be persistent. We’re on the right track, nature will teach us everything else we need to know. Be flexible. As ecological designers we don’t have a traditional employment path. But this challenge is our opportunity: designing employment opportunities to complement your new degree. Be like nature. Plant seeds, grow networks, tap the flow of information. Don’t be afraid to take risks, nothing is perfect but armed with ecology things will work out.

What are you doing right now, and what do you love about it?
I am developing residential properties as my main source of income. I love learning all operations of development. My current position was not what I planned for, but it was exactly the apprenticeship I needed to further my Conway knowledge. The position allows me flexibility to learn, to redistribute resources, and intimately analyze current building practices.

During my year at Conway I always asked, where is the money coming from (to fund all the awesome initiatives and projects we talked about). My current job also answers to that. I followed the money to the Bay Area, the new Wall Street. The collective Silicon Valley culture has PR’d itself into a progressive haven, but as one can read in the headlines and from boots-on-the-ground experience, that is mainly what it is: PR. A great tale of ‘progress’ has been told. The reality is far from it. The economic divide is extreme, environmental justice is an afterthought to social and economic pressures. Money is being consolidated while cities continue to cater to Big Business.

In addition to my salaried position I am making opportunities from these challenges. I just launched one business, Re.State of Mind. This is a pop-up recycled clothing and workshop business with the goal of restating how we do fashion and home decor. I was motivated to partner with a tailor because of an an astounding fact: 80 million garments sold each year, 75% end up in the trash.

List one or more books that you find influential in the field of ecological design and/or planning.
I am currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I know it will change the way my father thinks about managing his 72 acres in Ohio. As the person planting the seeds of agroforestry and ecological land management for many years now, I am very excited for the personal influence it will have on us both.

What book changed your life?
I’d like to offer a lecture instead of a book. During my year at Conway on a field trip lecture Elizabeth Farnsworth presented the notion of ‘roadside geology’ she gave us the basics we needed to identify geological formations while watching the world go by from a car, train or plane. Ever since, I’ve found so much joy in putting this wisdom into practice and expanding on it as a roadside botany/ecology/urban planner! I am also reading “What a CITY is For; Remaking the Politics of Displacement” by Matt Hern.

What is your favorite tool? 
A spade, clippers, the internet and imagination.

How do you think ecological design and planning can help make positive change?
Positive changes through ecological design can happen by being in innovative and unexpected spaces. Permaculturalist City Planners. Politicians with platforms to shift power from Big: Ag, Pharma, Education back to the people. As Ecological Event Planners. By incubating B-corp, ecologically minded businesses. Redesigning fabrication of products, supply-chains, transportation with a whole systems approach. The list goes on. What is the feasibility of setting up a west-coast-Conway? Or developing partnerships and programming at K-12 or university levels?

Which aspects of your Conway education do you use in your current work? Which aspects do you use to address urgent challenges related to climate change, environmental justice, etc.?
When I came to Conway I didn’t know I was a committed lifelong learner, being there solidified this existence! Everyday I learn and research. Every day I work on communication, asking questions, pushing the envelope, challenging the status quo.

What blogs or podcasts do you recommend? Particular posts or episodes?
I don’t read enough blogs or listen to enough podcasts to do any recommending, so I’ll promote organizations. Earth Island Institute is a 501c3 umbrella organization set up to run administrative sides of nonprofits. Their motivation is to enable mission so that even a one person nonprofit can get a lot of big things done! I worked with them on a High School Hydroponics Education curriculum nonprofit. I recommend them to anyone trying to get an enviro-nonprofit into action!


More from Emily, from a piece that originally appeared in the 2015 edition of con’text magazine:

Notes from the Urban Front

by Emily Lubahn ’11

After a recent talk in San Francisco, I noticed that the speaker, a national expert on tactical urbanism, had a copy of Conway’s con’text magazine in his hands. I tried not to rudely interrupt his conversation, but I couldn’t contain my excitement! It turns out that the person with whom he was speaking had given him the magazine. So on the spot I met Aitan Mizrahi, a member of Conway’s class of 2015.

I am currently working with Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF). We are partnering with San Francisco’s planning department to make the first urban forest plan. Last year a friend and I produced a call-to-action video about the Tenderloin neighborhood of the city. I’ve been living in this neighborhood for three years, watching the tech companies move in, wondering how I could tap their financial resources to improve street conditions. This June, I will work with FUF to launch #techplantssf, its second program. We’re partnering with the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, a stakeholder located at the juxtaposition of the Tenderloin and Civic Center (with an under-publicized street-level green roof).

On the urban-ag front my team and I have just launched a food systems nonprofit focused on hyperlocal growing for schools and businesses. Our “Urban Farmacy” currently develops curricula for schools in line with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) standards and applied learning techniques, while building ecological awareness. We plan to grow our services over the next six months to cater to businesses that want food systems on corporate campuses, in restaurants, and offices. We will design, build, and operate the food systems. Our goals include generating revenue while tapping into tech money and providing students who go through our program with jobs as managers and operators of food systems at the businesses.

Our first pilot project is a partnership with the Sustainable Urban Design Academy, where we are in four classes in the tenth and eleventh grades teach ing students how to build hydroponic systems. These systems will soon replace the former ROTC gun range on campus—the Guns 2 Gardens project. We swooped in after an aquaponics partner backed out. Our first day in the classroom started with kids saying they don’t do math, and ended with the very same students completing complex equations to determine water flow in the hydroponic system they are now building. Applied learning at its best!

Students in the Guns 2 Gardens program plant greens in the hydroponic garden they designed and built. The students enjoyed the harvest of the first crop in class, and will experiment with creating value-added products using the second crop. Photo: Emily Lubahn