There was a time, a little more than 40 years ago, when Professor Emeritus Gordon Bradley had to choose between taking a research job in Tennessee or accepting a faculty position at the University of Washington. It was a stark choice—and not an easy one, either.
He had flown down to Knoxville, Tenn., to interview for a position with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), where he would have been involved in their land-use impacts program. Around the same time, he’d also applied for a recreation planning faculty position at the College of Forest Resources. So while weighing an offer from the TVA, he headed up to Seattle to explore the possibility of an academic career. “I gave [UW] an interview and went back home, and the chair of the department called me up the next day to offer me the job,” says Bradley. “I had to think about it for a little while, because the people in Tennessee were so nice. But I thought, ‘I’ll try UW for a couple years.’”
A couple turned into more than 40, and Bradley—who retired at the end of 2014—has begun tying up the many threads of a long university life. “Some people might say, ‘You’ve had this one 42-year career,’” he says. “But if you take an academic career seriously, you can actually reinvent yourself over and over again. You can get a mix of things from about four or five different careers, and you don’t have to leave town.”
For Bradley, that mix has been unusually varied. In his four-plus decades on the faculty, he never shied away from opportunities to get involved and contribute to the SEFS community. He taught dozens of courses, from recreation and forest planning to urban forestry, and held adjunct positions with the Department of Urban Design and Planning and the Department of Landscape Architecture. He served on countless committees, including multiple turns organizing the school’s annual strategic planning retreat, and published scores of publications. He also held a number of leadership positions, including several years as faculty chair and associate dean of academic affairs, and his drawing of Anderson Hall now adorns all sorts of cards and documents as our unofficial seal.
Even now—between golf trips and more time with his family—he’s back at the helm of one more planning committee for the 2015 retreat. Yet the pace has definitely slowed a little, giving him more time to reflect on the bookends of his long, industrious tenure here.
“It seems like a rather trite comment,” he says, “but where did the time go? Well, if you hang around long enough, the time will go.”
Bradley was born in Bellingham, Wash., and he “fell down the West Coast” from there. First, his family moved to Seattle for a couple years, and then continued south to Sacramento when he was 7 years old. That’s where he went to high school, and Bradley says he didn’t exactly graduate with a clear vision of his future. “I had an occasion to look at my yearbook a while back, and where they ask you about your ambition, I just put ‘undecided.’”
After he enrolled at Sacramento State College (now California State University – Sacramento), though, some of his interests started to crystallize. “I was using those first two years to explore and take your general distributions classes,” he says, “and I knew I had an interest in agriculture, forestry, business and art. Somehow, as I was exploring different fields, landscape architecture seemed to capture a lot of that stuff. It clearly had an environmental aspect like forestry; the art aspect in design; and business if you were going to make it work.”
He transferred to the landscape architecture program at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in Pomona after his second year. The downside was that the technical nature of all programs at Cal Poly required a four-year sequence of courses. So he basically had to start over at year one of the program, knowing he would need another four years from there to complete the requirements of a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.
The upside of taking six years to finish the degree, however, was that he had time to get involved in a number of extracurricular activities, from spending time in a pottery studio—as it happens, with Robert Zappa, the brother of Frank Zappa—to getting active in the student government at Cal Poly.
In 1967, in fact, he got elected as vice-president of the Associated Students, Inc., a position that meant he was chair of the student senate. Bradley had been a student senator the year before, and he realized that most of the students didn’t have a clear picture of how the legislative process worked. So in a move that would surprise few of his later colleagues, Bradley partnered with a friend from his landscape architecture program to build a graphic that explained the legislative world, from introducing bills to votes and other procedural motions.
After earning his bachelor’s in 1969, Bradley headed to Berkeley to work toward a master’s in landscape architecture in environmental planning. His undergraduate program had focused heavily on project-level planning, and his graduate work expanded the scope to include more regional planning—looking at the natural world, as well as the social and political and administrative dimensions.
The timing of his arrival on campus was perfect. “The nice thing about that degree,” he says, “was I got there just at the time when a piece of legislation passed that created the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), and my academic advisor was an advisor to that agency.”
Bradley secured a research assistantship in 1970 to help the TRPA develop a land-use plan in the basin. He helped build an extensive GIS database and assisted with overall plan development, including modeling a number of future scenarios. “I worked on that project for the whole two years until the plan was adopted,” he says. “It was a real-world, heavy-duty policy-planning experience.”
The TRPA defined the planning area to address the hydro-physiological boundary of the lake rather than simply the political boundary of the water. By factoring in conditions and inputs through the broader lake watershed, the agency was able to address a far more comprehensive set of variables. “It was unique in the world to have an environmental plan that captured all of the problems that influenced the health of the lake,” says Bradley. “It was an incredible experience.”
Back to Seattle
Not long after earning his master’s in 1972, Bradley saw the advertisement for an assistant professor of resource planning at the College of Forest Resources. “At the time I came here, we had a major recreation program headed up by Professor Grant Sharp,” says Bradley. “He did the interpretation, and I was hired to do the planning. I helped him build the program, and we developed a whole series of classes, case studies and field trips. But we eventually had to close the program because university budget constraints and the student numbers were more than the two of us could handle.”
In those first few years on the faculty, some of Bradley’s favorite classes were the two-week field trips he led as part of “Introduction to Recreation and Conservation.” Some of those excursions took them all the way out through Yellowstone, the Tetons, Jackson Hole and Hell’s Canyon, while others didn’t require going more than a few miles out of the city. “In this part of the world, when you walk outside of the building, that basically is your lab and your classroom,” he says. “You don’t’ have to read or lecture about it; you can go out and look at it. Urban forestry, urban ecology, recreation, sustainable sites—it’s all out there. So we’d be traveling and visiting agencies and trying to discover the important issues in natural resource management, and also some of the employment opportunities and career paths. It was quite an enterprise.”
Within five years, Bradley had been promoted and awarded tenure. And though his MLA was the highest he could achieve in his field at the time, he recognized that he was one of only a few professors at the university who didn’t hold a Ph.D. So he decided to use his first opportunity for sabbatical to enroll at the University of Michigan to pursue his doctorate in urban and regional planning. “Nobody made me do it, but I wanted to remain competitive and expand my horizons,” he says.
He returned to campus after a year and a half in Michigan and then spent the next six years completing his research remotely from Seattle, eventually earning his Ph.D. in urban, technological and environmental planning in 1986. “So I came here with a master’s and then was teaching for five to six years, got tenure and then went and got a Ph.D.”
Also, while his time on campus at Michigan was brief, his connections to his advisor, Professor Rachel Kaplan, and her many students continue to this day. In fact, a book that Kaplan co-edited, Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing out Our Best, was just published last month. It includes a chapter by Bradley and one of his former students, Laura Cooper, “Planning for Small Forest Landscapes: Facilitating the Connection between People and Nature,” as well as contributions from 20 other individuals who have collaborated together for many years.
Bradley was later promoted to full professor in 1991 and he went on to serve in a number of leadership roles, including as faculty chair from 2005 to 2009. “With a background in planning,” he says, “I always viewed administration, in many respects, as adaptive management. If you really enjoy planning, you realize that not everything is going to work with everybody. I always thought of it as kind of a bunch of little experiments to see what worked and what didn’t work. My interest was just trying to resource the faculty in a way that allowed them to do their job, whether that was workload, time or money—to the extent we had some money to spend. I didn’t want the administration to ever be a barrier or a burden.”
A Professor’s Life
It’s hard to put a period at the end of such a long, multifaceted life in academia. Bradley has had a chance to work on so many projects with so many partners, from city, county, state and federal agencies, to timber companies across the region, to nonprofits like Forterra and the Mountains to Sound Greenway. “This has been absolutely incredible, the opportunity afforded by the University of Washington,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have the chance to enjoy a career like this. There just isn’t a bad day.”
He looks at these projects as chapters, or mini-careers, each with a different focus and set of challenges. His research ‘careers’ have covered recreation and conservation planning, forest land-use issues (including a book about the urban-forest interface), and urban ecology and urban forestry (including a book about urban forest landscapes). He also spent 10 years looking at visual resource management on forest lands, and through everything he continued to teach and mentor students.
One of his most rewarding experiences was serving as principal investigator for the National Science Foundation-funded program in urban ecology. The Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) grant allowed Bradley and several colleagues, including SEFS Professors Clare Ryan and John Marzluff, to work and travel internationally with doctoral students to address pressing environmental issues.
Missing those student interactions might be an especially tough adjustment. “That’s really the fun of teaching, the process of sharing discoveries,” he says. “I always liked that, whether it was the introductory classes or the graduate classes. You have a guaranteed supply of good students, and there’s a high energy level in terms of ideas, issues, personnel. It’s a stimulating kind of place.”
Now, aside from a couple consulting projects and helping a few graduate students wrap up their research, Bradley’s schedule definitely looks much more open—though his days are likely to be just as full. “The calendar is not empty,” he says.
He’s already taken a couple golf trips and has visits to Montana and Hawaii coming up this summer. He’s also spending more time with his family, including his daughter Autumn and two grandkids. “This afternoon, my granddaughter has an indoor soccer game, and I love to watch her. “I have [the grandkids] every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. I fix them breakfast and then take them to school.”
It will take him a year or two to fully transition out of the university, and he’s now gradually packing up his office in Bloedel Hall (which his grandkids call the “treehouse”). But there’s more to it than that. After a lifetime of constant learning and professional evolution, Bradley doesn’t ever want to close the door on new adventures and pursuits. “Put your antenna up, keep your eyes open and your ears unplugged, and make sure you’re sensing your environment and what interests you,” he says.
One of his former students, Wendy Asplin, might have said it best when she encouraged him to sit back and watch the universe expand.
“I liked that,” says Bradley. “Watch the universe expand. I think it’s going to work out.”
Photo of Gordon and Jackie Bradley, and Anderson drawing © Gordon Bradley; all other photos © Karl Wirsing/SEFS.