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‘Design With Nature’ to Create Liveable Communities

How Ian McHarg Taught Generations to ‘Design With Nature’ – Fifty years ago, a Scottish landscape architect revolutionized how designers and planners think about ecology. His legacy matters now more than ever.


In the introductory chapter, McHarg framed his argument: “Our eyes do not divide us from the world, but they unite us to it…Let us abandon the simplicity of separation and give unity its due. Let us abandon the self-mutilation which has been our way and give expression to the potential harmony of man-nature … Man is that uniquely conscious creature who can perceive and express. He must become the steward of the biosphere. To do this, he must design with nature.”

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CHILDREN’S AFFILIATIONS WITH NATURE: Structure, Development, and the Problem of Environmental Generational Amnesia – studies by Peter Kahn, Professor of Psychology at University of Washington, describe why each generation regards a progressively poorer natural world as normal


How do children reason about environmental problems? Are there universal features in children’s environmental conceptions and values? How important is it that children and young adults experience natural wonders? Finally, what happens to children’s environmental commitments and sensibilities when they grow up in environmentally degraded conditions? The foregoing are questions that are addressed by Peter Kahn in his research into environmental moral conceptions and values. “My research findings articulate what may be one of the most pressing and unrecognized problems of our age – the problem of environmental generational amnesia,” wrote Peter Kahn.

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INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE SALMON: “It is not just about the salmon. It is what that organism represents that is fundamental to how we look at the landscape, especially when the climate is changing,” stated Nick Leone, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, at the Parksville 2019 Symposium on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate


In embarking on this journey, British Columbians can learn from historical precedents and parallels. In particular, the “salmon crisis” in the 1990s was a game-changer in the way it was the catalyst for green infrastructure practices. A generation later, will lightning strike twice and will the iconic salmon again be the regulatory driver that spurs communities to raise the bar to ‘improve where we live’? “If we are to fundamentally restore or rehabilitate creeksheds, we must first recognize and understand the essential elements that make up a dynamic landscape. It is a system. Act accordingly,” stated Nick Leone.

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WHAT IS NEEDED TO THRIVE IN THE 21st CENTURY: When nature is used as a classroom, it has a positive effect on learning among children in at least eight different ways, according to a new survey of 100s of research studies


“It is time to take nature seriously as a resource for learning. In fact, the trend of increasing indoor instruction in hopes of maximizing standardized test performance may be doing more harm than good,” states Professor Frances ‘Ming’ Kuo. “We found strong evidence that time in nature has a rejuvenating effect on attention; relieves stress; boosts self-discipline; increases physical activity and fitness; and promotes student self-motivation, enjoyment, and engagement. And all of these have been shown to improve learning.”

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TIME IN NATURE LOWERS STRESS: “Healthcare practitioners can use our results as an evidence-based rule of thumb on what to put in a nature-pill prescription,” stated Professor MaryCarolHunter, research lead at University of Michigan


“We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us,” says MaryCarolHunter. “Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature. It provides the first estimates of how nature experiences impact stress levels.”

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NATURE’S ASSETS: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that these resources can be harnessed as critical infrastructure and leveraged to manage the risks associated with climate change,” said Charles Brindamour, Intact Financial Corporation’s CEO (April 2019)


“Climate change is having an enormous human and economic impact. Canadians – especially government and business leaders – can lead the way in addressing and managing the associated risks. By making our country one of the most climate resilient in the world, we can protect our nature, our economy and our people,” stated Charles Brindamour. “As the Summit has made clear, nature and natural resources are, and have always been, among Canada’s greatest assets.”

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STRIVING FOR A SMALLER HYDROLOGIC FOOTPRINT: “I wanted to come up with answers to two questions: How much green infrastructure do we need, and where should it be located?” stated Moira Zellner, University of Illinois


“We built a computational cellular model of integrating land cover with hydrology, and when we built this model, we tried to answer those two questions with it,” stated Moira Zellner.”For small storms, we need about 10 percent coverage of green infrastructure to prevent runoff from going downstream. The locations [of green infrastructure] which are more scattered but also follow roads are particularly good. Roads are built to convey water, and if we put [these green infrastructures] around the roads, then what it does is it enhances a function of the road as a way to store and convey and drain water toward the sewers.”

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ENGINEERED NATURE: “The world is round, but Detroit is extremely flat,” said Palencia Mobley, chief engineer, when explaining the approach to Green Stormwater Infrastructure


In Detroit, simply making a park where there was once a building is often not enough to prevent flooding due to its topography and geology: “We don’t have a lot of elevation to move water. Another problem is that Detroit is full of clay soil which doesn’t readily absorb water,” said Palencia Mobley. So many Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects in Detroit excavate the clay and mix it with sand or gravel so water can move underground faster.

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FLASHBACK TO 2007: “The Capital Regional District Headquarters Building is the first LEEDs Gold Certified building in the Capital Region,” reported Jody Watson


“The CRD has installed a new weather station that is part of the performance monitoring program for the green roof project,” stated Jody Watson. “The extensive green roof and the living wall are being monitored, in partnership with the BCIT Centre for Architectural Ecology – Collaborations in Green Roofs and Living Walls to provide real-time regional data on the environmental and economic benefits of these innovative technologies. Monitoring includes a measure of rainwater retention and runoff reduction and temperature and energy statistics.”

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JUST RELEASED (March 2019): “Integrating Green and Gray – Creating Next Generation Infrastructure” – joint report by World Bank and World Resources Institute states that the next generation of infrastructure can help drive economies and strengthen communities and the environment


“21st century challenges require innovative solutions and utilizing all the tools at our disposal. And integrating ‘green’ natural systems like forests, wetlands and flood plains into ‘gray’ infrastructure system shows how nature can lie at the heart of sustainable development. ‘Integrating Green & Gray – Creating Next-Generation Infrastructure’ provides guidance on how to do just that,” stated Greg Browder, World Bank Global Lead for Water Security & Lead Author.

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