When Cities Grow Wild - Natural Landscaping from an Urban Planning Perspective

by John Ingram

2.3 Conclusions

To help set the thesis question in a broader context, this chapter has introduced the concept and practical applications of natural landscaping in relation to the urban landscaping tradition it seeks to supplant. More importantly, this section has answered the implicit assumptions made by the research question; that is that the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy is the preferred option for Halifax Regional Municipality. As the chapter has attempted to make clear, part of the effort to redefine the human relationship with the larger environment rests with our treatment of the urban landscape which, as it remains today, is a potent, if picturesque, symbol of the city's strained and worsening relationship with the natural environment. Despite their naturalized forms and outward greenness, the mosaic of parks, gardens and formal open spaces that make up the urban landscape fails to meet many contemporary environmental objectives and standards. From the considerable energy inputs they demand to retain their cultivated forms to the pollution their intensive maintenance regimes create, our manufactured greenspaces represent ecologically denuded landscapes that tend to degrade rather than improve human and environmental health. Further, current urban landscaping conventions also embody outdated notions of human superiority over the natural world and perpetuate the artificial division between nature and the city. In short, the premise that human presence should be predominantly displayed in our urban landscapes places no intrinsic value on nature; these landscapes might satisfy current community aesthetic values, but they also destroy ecological health (Nassauer, 1997). As a positive and somewhat radical departure from the current landscape ethic, natural landscaping is an ecologically-based approach to greenspace management that rejects traditional notions of civic aesthetics in seeking to restore environmental integrity to the larger urban landscape. As this chapter has made clear, the practice is both a process and a larger objective which has as its ultimate goal the displacement of current landscaping conventions and the reintroduction of nature and natural processes to the city. Founded on the principles of landscape ecology and informed by Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic, natural landscaping represents a decidedly holistic approach to urban landscape management. The following chapter further develops the larger context in which the thesis question rests and summarizes the general challenges and opportunities natural landscaping presents public planning authorities. Again, this thesis makes the assumption that city planners should not only make themselves aware of natural landscaping, but foster, promote and practice it through the development of appropriate policies, regulations and guidelines. The following chapter, therefore, explores how private individuals and public bodies have begun to implement natural landscaping strategies in the municipal environment.

ing208.jpg (97150 bytes)Figure 2.8

Seeing the Landscape despite the Suburbs

A naturally landscaped buffer area between homes in a new suburban development outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota

(source: Urban Land Institute, 1994)


4. This definition incorporates and combines elements of the EPA definition and those found in Daniels, 1995 and Rappaport 1993 and North Eastern Illinois Planning Commission, 1997.

The term bioregion may defined as a region defined by natural factors, including physiography, stream flows, weather, plant and animal communities.

5. Kentucky bluegrass, the most common turf grass species, is actually a European import. The majority of other common turf grass species, such as Bermuda Grass, Timothy, Redtop Grass and Orchard Grass, are exotic to North America as well. There are over 1,100 species of native grasses in North America (Rappaport, 1993)

An Alien or Exotic plant refers to a plant which has been recently introduced to an area where it is now established. Introduction is often the result of human activity. Exotics may have come from another continent or from another part of North America.

6. Although this simplistic overview leaves out a great millennia of human interaction with, and modification of, the natural world, it is these two events that have most profoundly shaped todays urban landscape forms and management regimes.

7. It is worth noting that much of the turf maintenance was carried out by herd animals.

8. Although figures are unknown, if institutional, corporate and publicly maintained areas were included, the number would easily jump to well over 100,000 square kilometres

9. In the U.S., metropolitan areas account for approximately 16% of the countrys total land area. Using the simple formula created for this thesis, that would mean that almost 2% of the countrys land area is devoted to conventionally landscaped areas.

10. The land use calculation is admittedly rough, but nevertheless fairly accurate. The calculation assumed that, on average, private vegetated yards account for 9% of a typical municipal land base, vegetated open spaces 0.5% to 1%, civic parkland 3% and other landscaped areas 2%. The final percentage deduced was low balled or dropped by one third. The green areas typically associated with large commercial, industrial, institutional and governmental developments was not taken into account.

11. There are currently 308 pesticides registered for use on lawns and turf alone. By far the most common is the substance in lawn care products is 2, 4-D (found in such products as Killex and Weed and Feed, etc.) which is found in approximately 1/3 of turf herbicides. The chemical has been linked to such human health impacts as non-Hodgkins lymphomania and childhood leukemia. (Citizens for Alternatives to Pesticides, 1994)

12. As is discussed in section 2.2.1, the root systems of native grasses are ten to thirty times longer than those of traditional turf grass species.

13. Interviews were conducted with public officials from the City of Guelph, City of Kitchener, City of Waterloo, City of North York (now Toronto), City of North Vancouver, City of Vancouver, Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth and the City of Chicago

14. Landscape ecology is the application of spatial(geographic) analysis to problems of habitat planning and management, particularly in urban, suburban and rural environments. The study focuses on three landscape mosaic traits, or pieces of landscape systems such as drainage areas, wetlands, etc., representing the disaggregated remnants of various types of habitats and ecosystems. The traits are: structure, function, and change (or form, process and change). Its aim is to discover relationships between landscape form and function in order to design landscapes that support richer and more productive mixes of plant and animal species. Its objective is to reduce fragmentation and to reconnect fractured landscapes into more functional patterns with greater ecological resilience and sustainability. (Marsh, 1998 p358)

15. The Land Ethic is simple, elegant and egalitarian socio-environmental tenet conceived by the American forest conservationist and ecologist Aldo Leopold and espoused in his influential book, The Sand County Almanac. As a concept, the Land Ethic speaks to a new way of living within the bounds of nature through the combination of environmental ethics, ecology and aesthetics. It is best explained in his own words.

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interde1pendent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land...

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such. (Leopold, 1949)

16. The City of Torontos Naturalization Committee defines a sustainable landscapes as: a healthy community of living organisms and their environment which is self-renewing and can be maintained over time. (City of Toronto, 1997)

17. A distinction is made between ecological and environmental impacts based on the following definitions:

ecological impacts: the impacts associated with the inter-relations amongst and between organisms and their larger environment.

environmental impacts: those impacts on single species or elements within the larger environment.

18. Herbicides are occasionally used in the development phase of a natural landscape to minimize competition from the weeds. The City of North York, the Canadian pioneer in naturalization projects, determined that such applications are not always necessary, especially in previously turfed landscapes where the weed populations are generally not present because of prior weed management (Granger, 1988).

19. Biological diversity has at least three components: (1) genetic heterogeneity within and between populations; (2) species richness (number of species), evenness (relative abundance of each), and composition; and (3) the variety and spatial extent of biotic communities and ecosystems(Romme, 1997 in Nassauer, 1997).

20. The size, shape and juxtaposition of habitat patches within the landscape may be as important as the total extent of habitat in determining the population size and viability of sensitive species (Romme in Nassauer, 1997).

21. Some prairie and meadow communities require a prescribed annual burn to emulate natural conditions. Such burns have been carried out safely and successfully in urban areas.

22. A plant that has escaped from cultivation and that thrives on its own in the wild is considered a naturalized species, eg. the ubiquitous roadside favourite Queen Annes Lace.

23. In suburban and urban projects, care is often reflected in mowing the border of the natural area to a lower height. This can help frame the natural landscape for a general public who still must become accustomed to its application in urban and suburban areas. Border mowing scenarios are pictured in section 3.1.2.

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