Picture Two Scenarios
In the first, the world is pristine, something out of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear novels. Virgin forest, replete with old growth trees, stretches for thousands of miles. Flocks of wild parakeets, now extinct in North America, take wing in numbers so vast that they blot out the sun. Herds of bison, millions strong, slowly migrate across high-grass prairies unchanged for millennia.
Sparkling clean rivers tumble over moss-livened rocks on their way to the sea. And the oceans! Their waters healthy, and chock full of fish and marine mammals, hundreds of species living in ecological balance.
Now For an Alternative Take
Remember Stephen King? He once wrote a short story called Trucks where (you guessed it) suddenly sentient trucks overthrow humans and take over the world. Their goal: to pave the planet (in order to get around better, I guess).
Imagine a world of asphalt, all the trees bulldozed down, rivers fouled with hydrocarbons, oceans barren. A dead globe, home only to machines.
What’s my point? Just this. The first scenario is an ideal, an Eden. And the second is Hell on Earth, an environment incapable of supporting life. Today, as far as human habitation and land use is concerned, both scenarios are impracticable.
We might dream wistfully of the Shangri-la appeal of the first, and long to live in such a utopia. Or we could have nightmares about the terrifying possibility that the flip side might occur someday. But our species would never see it. We’d go extinct a long time before the world reached such a state.
Striking a Balance
That’s just it. Those scenarios are extremes. And we, as a species, live between the extremes.
But to create the best possible human habitats, those that let us effectively live, work and play amidst life-affirming beauty, we must constantly seek a balance between a garden world and a bulldozed one.
As a landscape architect, I have dual callings. One is to be a steward of the land. But the other is to create wonderful, functional, and beautiful habitats in which folks can decompress and recharge their batteries, away from the fuss and bother of the outside world. Where they can live, laugh, love and linger, in peace and safety, within a landscape as environmentally diverse and lovely as any botanical garden.
For me, the joy I derive from design comes from striving to discover the best compromise possible. To integrate building projects geared for human use into the landscape with as little impact to the land as practical. And to encourage a rich, well-balanced landscape, habitat for humans, wildlife and plants.
Ever play Jenga? You start with an initial tower composed of blocks stacked one atop the others. Players take turns removing blocks from the tower while trying to preserve its stability. But remove one too many, or the wrong one, and you destroy the integrity of the whole, and the entire thing comes tumbling down.
That’s what taking the integrated ecology approach to land design is like. You start with a well thought out development program married with a thorough understanding of your site. To achieve the results you want, you judiciously disturb just enough of your site as is necessary, while carefully avoiding impacting the site too much – and upsetting the proverbial environmental apple cart. But the results – a project that integrates both human and environmental needs – is well worth the effort.
Because You Can Wind Up With Something Grand
Whether you call it integrated ecology, sustainable site design, or low impact development, many times taking this approach to land design will save you money, either in construction costs or maintenance costs over time.
Choose to work with the land, and reap the benefits – to wildlife, to you and your family, to your business, and to the community at large.