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Integrated Community Planning

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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GREENING ROCK CREEK DRAINAGE AREA IN WASHINGTON, DC: Re-engineering the city to reverse the damage done by engineers of generations past, using modern technology to imitate how nature handles rainwater and stormwater runoff


“I was just reading an article recently by a Washington Post reporter back in the 1930s, saying it was a ‘lusty stream,’” Steve Dryden says. “Development in the early 20th century just paved all of this over.” Before most of Piney Branch disappeared under pavement, the “lusty” creek drained storm water from more than 2,000 acres of forests and fields. The land naturally absorbed much of the rain. Now, all that water is instead funneled into underground pipes. “This is the foundational mistake that was made in developing cities and suburbs.”

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LIFE AFTER CARBON: “Cities are finding that nature, in the form of climate change and its risks, is altering how they can shape the future,” wrote Peter Pastrik and John Cleveland in their book about cities that are reinventing themselves to combat climate change (published in 2018)


“For centuries, architects, builders, landscapers, and city planners have tapped nature’s capabilities to absorb and channel water and to cool the air. But green infrastructure has gained significant momentum in local government planning and policy worldwide as a favored way to respond to climate change and to increase cities’ sustainability and appeal,” wrote Peter Pastrik. “As cities recognize the increased reliability, cost-effectiveness, and co-benefits of green infrastructure, they have expanded the practice from one-off projects to city-scale approaches.”

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DESIGN WITH NATURE: “People often think of urban landscapes as concrete dystopias, but the future may reside in cities that can sustain both people and nature,” wrote John Lieber in an Op-Ed published by The Revelator (Dec 2018)


“I’m excited about the future of cities for people, plants and animals. I’m grateful for all the unsung heroes who have created a foundation for green cities through science, education and implementation,” wrote John Lieber. “I’m encouraged to be playing a part in facilitating it by working with governments, developers, architects and builders to implement green infrastructure and create green strategies. The future of urban ecology is not dark but bright.”

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Restored stream to be central feature of Ford plant site’s redevelopment in St. Paul – “This is an opportunity to envision what a 21st-century community is,” says Tom Fisher, director of the Minnesota Design Center


Ford’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota opened in 1925 to build Model Ts in a state-of-the-art facility powered by a hydroelectric dam on the Mississippi River. When the last vehicle rolled off its line in 2011, it was Ford’s oldest factory. Today, all that remains is an expansive tract of bare land. But the site is poised for a dramatic rebirth into a dense mixed-use neighborhood designed to be a showpiece of energy efficiency, smart design, ecological stormwater management, and enlightened economic development.

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XIONGAN NEW AREA: “Is China’s ‘city of the future’ a replicable model? Success of Xiong’an’s ambitious green experiment seems guaranteed but its strength may make it hard to emulate,” writes Li Jing


“As part of its green initiatives, Xiong’an will become a testing ground for innovative green financing tools to fund projects to clean up local water systems, build energy-saving buildings and public transportation systems. Whilst the commitment to sustainable development is commendable, the real environmental benefits of Xiong’an’s green experiments are questionable considering the area suffers from chronic water scarcity and severe ecological degradation,” wrote Li Jing.

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Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World (2017): “What is needed is a new approach, based on futures thinking, which embeds the ideas of ecological and social resilience into the very fabric of the built environment of cities,” says Malcolm Eames, editor


“Today, a key challenge for policy and decision makers globally is how best to develop the knowledge and capacity to use resources more sustainably. Governments in the UK and across the world are therefore introducing increasingly challenging targets to reduce the impact we have on our environment,” stated Dr. Malcolm Eames. “However, in what is an increasingly urbanised world, ‘piecemeal’ change cannot equip cities, as major foci of global population, to rise to the challenges of climate change. “

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Be the Hands that Restore the Land: “Physical geography should be integral to larger ecology and not just a beautification tool,” says landscape architect Akshay Kaul


“There is a severe shortfall in human resource to manage the environmental challenges in planning and design. Consider the Himalayas. Over the years, the less steep land has been built upon. We are left with very steep land to build on. It poses huge challenges in terms of creating roads, managing storm water, sub-surface drainage system, erosion and slope stabilization. The present techniques of retaining walls through concrete or stone are expensive and a visual eyesore—they do not take the more important issue of hydrology into consideration,” states Akshay Kaul.

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Financing the New Water Infrastructure: “Green and distributed infrastructure options are having their moment, and municipal leaders are taking notice,” wrote Cynthia Koehler, executive director of the WaterNow Alliance


“The challenge for green and distributed water strategies is scale. The power of these systems to provide truly meaningful benefits, and big savings, to cities and towns is in the aggregate. So how do we move from important but scattered success stories to making these options easily available to municipalities facing a range of water issues? Adopting distributed systems at large-scale requires that cities and towns have the option to use municipal bond proceeds to pay for consumer rebates, direct installations and other distributed infrastructure initiatives,” Cynthia Koehler.

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Discovering Nature’s Infrastructure Potential on Vancouver Island: “The long-term vision is to transform a decommissioned sawmill site on the Courtenay River into a valuable eco-asset corridor,” stated Project Watershed’s Jennifer Sutherst


“All the salmon stocks that are returning to spawn in the Tsolum River watershed or the Puntledge River watershed have to migrate past the site,” stated Jennifer Sutherst. “We want to take this community eyesore and turn it into an ecological asset. It’s really important to see that we’re going to be able to turn the site back to a natural functioning condition. Then it’s going to support fish and wildlife and be  a community asset. We’re also going to have the opportunity to build in some flood attenuation capacity.”

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