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

by John Ingram

3.2 The Public Realm and Natural Landscaping

From a landscape management perspective, municipal governments in both the US and Canada wield tremendous influence in shaping and reshaping urban landscape forms, patterns and maintenance regimes. From land use zoning to local tax structures and incentive programs, local governments possess a number of regulatory tools with which they can help determine both private and public property landscaping practices. Additionally, local and regional governments typically control considerable and varied inventories of public land, much of which is maintained through conventional and outdated landscape management practices and policies. Through the adoption of alternative landscaping strategies, public authorities could help lead the private sector by example in the gradual movement towards environmentally beneficial landscaping. Indeed, considering both the amount of public land under direct and indirect control, and the exposure and use public parkland and open space resources receive, it is certainly in the public realm where the greatest and most immediate advances could be made with natural landscaping.

The following section, however, does not limit itself to a summary of municipal efforts. Instead it samples widely from natural landscaping policy and program initiatives across the governmental spectrum, including those of regional authorities and state, provincial and federal governments. As already stated in this sections introduction, it is important to provide an overview of other government programming and policies given their significant influence in the municipal realm. Indeed, as is demonstrated in the following section, it is often from higher levels of government that local governments have received their mandates to develop natural landscaping programs and policies. The broad overview is also meant to demonstrate that the concept and practice of natural landscaping is fairly well accepted by higher levels of government in the United States, and, to a lesser extent in Canada.

The following subsections therefore provide a summary of some of the more significant landscape management initiatives currently underway across all levels of government. Although the programs vary considerably in their policy approach, scope and regulatory compliance demanded, together they indicate a clear shift in landscape management practices to favour ecologically-based approaches over current conventional models and standards.

This section begins with an overview of current upper level policy and programs divided into three units: (1) Federal Programs and Policies; (2) State and Provincial Projects and Policies; and, (3) Regional Programs and Policies. Municipal efforts are then summarized in sub-section 3.2.2 . The next sub-section, 3.2.3, provides a general analysis of current natural landscaping programming and policy, and offers some conclusions regarding the barriers and opportunities for the practice in both the private and public realms.

3.2.1 Upper Level Policy and Programs: An Overview

The following subsections provide a summary overview of upper level natural landscaping programs and policies. Canadian and American programs are both examined. Federal Programs and Policies

Perhaps the single greatest boost that the natural landscaping movement has received recently is its official endorsement by the Clinton Administration in the United States. The Executive Order on natural landscaping, or environmentally beneficial landscaping as the White House refers to it, was issued in 1994. Although it is not a binding regulatory document, the memorandum contains recommendations for a series of measures to increase environmentally beneficial landscaping practices at existing federal facilities and in all new, federally funded projects. As a result of the memorandum, a number of federal agencies have developed and implemented their own natural landscaping programs (Rappaport, 1998).

Given the importance of the document in helping to both establish the fundamental political credibility and public welfare importance of natural landscaping, an abridged copy follows.

Table 3.1 Federal Memorandum on Environmentally Beneficial Landscaping

Because the Federal Government owns and landscapes large areas of land, our stewardship presents a unique opportunity to provide leadership in this area and to develop practical and cost- effective methods to preserve and protect that which has been entrusted to us. Therefore, for Federal grounds, Federal projects, and federally funded projects, I direct that agencies shall, where cost-effective and to the extent practicable:
(a) use regionally native plants for landscaping;
(b) design, use, or promote construction practices that minimize adverse effects on the natural habitat;
(c) seek to prevent pollution by, among other things, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, using integrated pest management techniques, recycling green waste,and minimizing runoff.
(d) implement water-efficient practices, such as the ... siting of native plants in a manner that conserves water and controls soil erosion. Landscaping practices, such as planting regionally native shade trees around buildings to reduce air conditioning demands; and
(e) create outdoor demonstrations incorporating native plants, as well as pollution prevention and water conservation techniques, to promote awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of implementing this directive.

(source: Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, 1998, p54)

In addition to the memorandum, a number of US federal agencies have implemented natural landscaping policies and programs of their own. The two lead agencies in this regard are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Highway Authority (FHA).

The EPA, for its part, launched a series Beneficial Landscapes working groups for each of the agency's administrative units27. The EPA is also assisting a number of municipalities develop natural landscaping strategies to help them comply with the strict urban storm water regulations stipulated by the federal Clean Water Act. With their help, a number of cities are now beginning to use naturally vegetated impoundment and infiltration areas to help control the discharge of a number of pollutants commonly associated with urban storm water. As will be discussed in the Municipal Programs and Policy section, the City of Portland has developed a comprehensive natural roadside vegetation strategy to help it comply with the Act.

In the other major federal initiative, the US Federal Highway Authority has mandated that approximately 25% of its beautification and landscaping funding be spent exclusively on wildflower and native grasses planting along the rights-of-way and easements of the federal highway system. Much of the credit for FHA program is due to the lobbying of Ladybird Johnson, former president Lyndon Johnson's wife and founder of the 18,000 member strong National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, Texas. Most US Departments of Transportation have developed roadside natural landscaping programs to take advantage of the FHA funding program.

In Canada, federal recognition of natural landscaping pales in comparison to the US. As yet, there is no single federal program or initiative to assist provincial and/or municipal governments develop natural landscaping programs. Although there are certainly programs that may have been missed in the literature review for this thesis, the only Canadian federally funded project is in BC where Environment Canada helped fund a natural landscaping organization, Naturescape BC, develop a series of resource kits on creating backyard wildlife habitats. State and Provincial Policy and Programs

As far as provincial and state level natural landscaping efforts are concerned, the most common approach involves the planting of native species along highway roadsides and rights of ways. As mentioned in the previous section, US states have been motivated by the recent FHA policy thating304.jpg (61188 bytes)   stipulates 25% of all highway landscaping funding must be spent on the creation and implementation roadside naturalization programs. In  the US, natural plantings of wildflowers and prairie grasslands have become almost commonplace, particularly in the Midwest where the majority of states now have roadside natural landscaping, or wildflower programs in place28. Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Colorado, Oregon, Georgia, Maine and Washington all boast comprehensive roadside native vegetation programs.
Figure 3.4 Highway Naturalization, Wisconsin
(source: EPA, 1997)

The reasons for the increasing popularity of roadside planting programs are best summed up by a report by Minnesota's Department of Transportation whose "Operation Wildflower" is widely recognized as the most comprehensive program

Many of the landscaping projects have occurred in highly traveled and visible urban highway corridors. One of the more recent involved the creation of a "sustainable landscape design" on the Freedom Parkway in downtown Atlanta. The 70 acre corridor features a "flowering lawn", "meadow zones" and a woodland area (Calabria, 1996). Another urban parkway naturalization, this one a prairie restoration running through the centre of Lincoln, Nebraska, has also recently been completed. The success or failure of these projects will be extremely important in determining the potential for natural landscaping projects along or in the middle of busy urban traffic corridors.

Highway naturalization projects can also provide municipalities with helpful case studies on innovative funding for such projects, as FHA monies do not usually cover all project costs. Most recently, for example, the state of Georgia passed a "Wildflower Project Trust Fund" bill to amend its constitution (Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI) and create a special natural landscaping trust fund from revenues from the sale of special wildflower license plates. The fund is dedicated to "the establishment and operation of the Georgia Wildflower Project which shall include planning and implementation of a comprehensive plan for the planting and permanent maintenance of wildflowers along the public roads of the interstate and federal-aid primary highway system in the state" (State of Georgia,1996).

In the US, state natural landscaping initiatives are not limited to highway naturalization programs. Many states have passed beneficial landscaping legislation for reasons of water conservation and general resource conservation. The State of Florida, for example, passed a specific natural landscaping statute that forced municipalities to draft ordinance incentives for landowners to maintain landscapes that reduce water usage, prohibit invasive exotics and limit the maximum percentage of turf on the land (Rappaport, 1993). In water starved California, a state where upwards of 1/3 of municipal water in some areas is used for lawn watering, a similar water conservation-based legislation was enacted in 1993. It stipulates that all jurisdictions either adopt the states model water conservation ordinance, create one of their own, or otherwise prove that such an ordinance is unnecessary for their particular region (Clark, 1994). The state ordinance stipulates the use of native species to create water conserving "xeriscapes"29.

In Texas, recent resource conservation legislation led to the development of an 'Urban Fish and Wildlife Program' to get urban residents involved in wildlife conservation. Currently, the program has a team in each of the three largest urban areas of the state: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. A primary focus of the project is the development and coordination of 'Texas Wildscape Demonstration Sites' in each of the three metro areas. The naturally landscaped demonstration sites are intended not only to provide wildlife habitat, but also to provide opportunities for people to participate in "hands-on" natural resource conservation and to serve as models for citizens in constructing their own backyard habitats. Each site incorporates native plants from the local ecological region and demonstrates proper spacing, layout and selection of plants suitable for wildlife species, such as songbirds, butterflies, reptiles and small mammals. There are currently over forty demonstration sites at selected schools, public parks, and natural areas (State of Texas, 1998).

Unfortunately, as with the federal level, there is a relative absence of provincial natural landscaping programming in Canada. currently, only Ontario's Ministry of Transportation has developed a comprehensive integrated roadside vegetation management program that incorporates natural landscaping principles and practices. The program is well developed and is being implemented throughout the province. British Columbia is close to implementing newly developed standards for roadside maintenance. Nova Scotia's Department of Highways, the next closest provincial challenger, is set to plant eight native plant test plots around the province in the summer of 1998 (Carol Goodwin, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, personal contact,1998). Regional Policies and Projects

In the United States, the most active regional authorities involved with natural landscaping are water utilities and water district organizations. Because of the enormous demands and costs of supplying municipal water for use on lawns many Water Districts and/or Conservation Authorities have implemented native plant awareness and public education programs to try to persuade people to replace lawns sections with native, drought tolerant plants. One innovative program in Novato, California called Cash for Grass pays homeowners to rip our their lawns and replace them with drought tolerant plant communities (Bormann, 1993; Reed, 1994)

In Canada there has not been this type and magnitude of regional, conservation-based natural landscaping initiatives. Although it is really beyond the scope of this thesis to speculate why, perhaps one reason is the lingering notion of Canada as a land of plenty where resource conservation is still widely perceived as a non-issue. Regionally, however, there has been some movement. In BC, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has long recognized the necessity of preserving environmentally sensitive areas and is now beginning to explore natural landscaping as a means of building out or protecting and buffering the borders of its reserves (GVRD , 1997). It has also provided some funding for a pilot project in the City of Vancouver where the Department of Water Works has established a water wise naturally landscaped garden and boulevard area.

Perhaps Canada's preeminent regional natural landscaping program is the National Capital Commissions longstanding and ongoing project to restore strategic roadsides, verges, boulevards, parkland and formal open spaces in and around Ottawa to help form part of its continuous regional greenway system. Piloted in 1982 under the guidance of landscape architect and natural landscaping proponent Michael Hough, the program has progressively naturalized lands under the Commissions control as an alternative strategy to conventional landscape maintenance and development programs. From a professional practitioner,s viewpoint, the program has also allowed a practical evaluation of techniques, design criteria and management costs of naturalized landscapes over time (Hough, 1990). An expanded project continues today in partnership with the Ottawa regions other major open space landowners, including the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton, the City of Ottawa, the City of Carleton and Ontario Hydro.

3.2.2 Municipal Programs and Policies

Although most cities boast some sort of unprotected remnant natural areas or, to a lesser degree, recognized urban wilderness preserves, it is only quite recently that municipalities have actively converted conventionally maintained parkland and open spaces through natural landscaping programs. As the following section indicates, the programs and policies vary considerably in their scale, scope and motivations. Still, each employs natural landscaping to achieve its fundamental environmental, societal or fiscal objective. Most of the policies and programs are not limited to a single-minded objective, but rather manifest the holistic ecological goals of natural landscaping.

The following summary section is divided between selected American and Canadian initiatives, with a special emphasis on Canadian programs and policies. Again, this is not a comprehensive review. It is a general summary of only a few representative municipal programs chosen to demonstrate the varied methods by which natural landscaping strategies have been incorporated into larger urban planning agendas and public policies. It should be remembered, though, that there are far more programs and policies in place than the summary indicates.

The initiatives themselves are arranged according to my perception of their comprehensive and innovative nature. As it happens that the more comprehensive programs generally tend to be the older and more established programs, the summary is organized on very rough chronological terms as well. Given the extremely limited body of literature on the subject, information was collected primarily through personal contact and interviews.

American Municipal Initiatives

Many of the first municipal natural landscaping programs and policies originated in the drought prone regions of the American Southwest where ground and surface water removals routinely exceed annual replenishment rates (Reed, 1994). In these localities, public authorities began to explore natural landscaping, in particular xeriscaping, as a means of reducing municipal water demands as early as 1983.

Foremost among these municipalities in its recognition of the potentials of natural landscaping and in its foresight in the application of the practice is Tucson, Arizona. As a fast growing desert citying305.jpg (46933 bytes)  entirely dependent upon ground water for all its municipal and industrial needs, Tucson avoided the traditional engineered solutions of large scale water importation schemes and instead entirely reinvented its approach to landscape management. Although natural landscaping represents only a part of its overall approach, Tucson nonetheless stands apart from every other North American city in its extensive use of use of native,  drought resistant vegetation.

Fig. 3.5 Naturalized Boulevard, Tucson 
(source: City of Tucson, 1998)

Both the city's Street Development Standard and Land Use Code maintain extensive natural landscaping requirements with extremely detailed native plant standards for private developers and city departments alike. Non-native plants, particularly lawn turf grasses, are explicitly and severely restricted in the Code. Through a series of promotional, regulatory and carrot-stick incentive programs, most existing private yards and gardens have also been converted to native gardens in a relatively short period (City of Tucson, 1998, Hough, 1990).

Beyond the the incredible scope and scale of the city's commendable work, the expression of its holistic societal and environmental vision is also evident in its policy and regulatory statements. Excerpted below, the statement of purpose from the Landscaping Requirements section of Tucson's Land Use Code serves to demonstrate the city's understanding of the numerous societal, health, ecological and environmental values associated with natural landscaping. The emphasis is added; it is meant to underscore the difference in approach between Tucson's understanding of urban landscape and that of those cities which maintain outdated weed laws.

Table 3.2 City of Tucson Landscaping Requirements

Purpose These regulations provide for the preservation, protection, transplanting and replacement of existing designated native plants including cacti, succulents, trees, and shrubs through the establishment of comprehensive procedures, requirements, and standards which protect the public health, safety, and general welfare by :

(source: City of Tucson Land Use Code, s. 3.8.2)

On the other side of the country and in an entirely different ecoregion, the City of Chicago has also implemented a number of very interesting natural landscaping projects through various municipal agencies and departments. Although the city's efforts are not yet as comprehensive as Tucson's, some of the highlights include: a comprehensive parkland naturalization strategy that seeks to restore and link prairie grasslands throughout the city; a roadside and boulevard natural landscaping project which includes a large section of Chicago's best known thoroughfare, Lake Shore Drive30; and a comprehensive employment-based training program, GreenCorps Chicago, which provides landscape design and management training for youth who carry out an impressive number of school yard naturalization and garden planting programs. GreenCorps alone has completed close to 500 projects of various types throughout the city (not all are based on natural landscaping).

The City of Chicago is also the leading member in one of the largest urban natural areas restoration processes in North America. The Chicago Biodiversity Council is made up of individuals from 34 public agencies and private organizations from Wisconsin and Illinois who are aiming to turn the 200,000 acre, eight county greater Chicago area into an international showcase for urban landscape restoration (Barnes, 1996). Through the preservation and restoration of existing natural areas to the creation of new areas through landscape conversions, the enormous project will employ natural landscaping strategies not only to enhance biological diversity and human quality of life, but also to reconnect residents to the regions natural history31.

In an effort both to protect and restore its own distinct natural history, the City of Fort Collins, Colorado launched an ambitious program to enhance existing wildlife corridors, such as river valleys and streams, while creating new natural habitats throughout the city. Part of the ongoing project involved the creation of a 10 acre natural habitat in the centre of downtown and a large-scale, city-sponsored wildlife habitat certification program for private homeowners. The City publishes a series of natural landscaping guidebooks and provides workshops for citizens who wish to convert all or part of their property to a more naturalized wildlife habitat. Like Tucson, the City has established strict landscaping requirements for new developments and is actively naturalizing many of its medians and boulevards, stitching them into the city's growing and already comprehensive greenways system. The small city of 110,000 residents also boasts a full time wildlife biologist on staff.

Similar to Fort Collins wildlife habitat certification program, the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) in the City of Portland, Oregon is also actively involved with the promotion and practice of natural landscaping through a series of policies and public outreach programs. The BES operates a program, "Naturescaping for Clean Rivers" which actively encourages and supports property owners with land abutting environmentally sensitive riparian corridors to use appropriate natural landscaping practices. The Bureau also maintains a protected plant list in conjunction with the Planning Bureau and publishes a natural landscaping guide book for property owners. The city's Office of Transportation has a program to re-landscape roadside verges and boulevard areas with native grasses and wildflowers as they are disturbed by normal street maintenance activities. The re-vegetation strategy is part of the city's Roadside Drainage Program which seeks to control storm water runoff and improve water quality through bio-engineered solutions. The program was developed as the city's response to the US Clean Water Act (personal contact, Barbara Krieg, Coordinator Roadside Drainage Program, City of Portland, 1998)

Canadian Municipal Initiatives

Beginning with the City of North York's pioneering park naturalization initiatives in the early 1980s, the majority of Canada's municipal natural landscaping initiatives have occurred in southern Ontario. Although North York has the oldest program, neither the city department responsible, nor city council officially recognized it through policy or expanded it beyond a parkland focus. Still, the city did establish a minimum benchmark for the application of natural landscaping which was adopted by many cities in the region.

The first city to take natural landscaping beyond the parkland realm was the City of Waterloo. There, in an effort to become "the most environmentally conscientious city in Ontario", the Planning Department began to develop a comprehensive Environment Strategy in 1989 to enhance and protect its natural environment (City of Waterloo, 1998). Natural landscaping was widely recognized in the initial briefing report to council, where the city's landscape architect summed up the values of traditional landscape planning this way:

We need to rethink our concept of parks and open space as manicured expanses of grass with canopy trees and decorative shrubs. Grass is an ecological monoculture. In a manicured state it has minimal ecological value, and requires maximum input of resources to maintain - in other words, it produces the least bang for the most bucks. Aesthetically, it is neat but boring. (George Smith, Landscape Architect, City of Waterloo, 1989)

The Environment Strategy recognizes both the importance of native urban vegetation to environmental health and the city's control over its application and use. The city put in place strict design guidelines and a management strategy for native plant material of heritage importance. The extensive use of native plants in landscape design is also encouraged in institutional, commercial and industrial developments through the city's Site Plan Review process. In addition, as a part of its subdivision approval process, a Subdivision Planting Plan must be submitted that supports natural landscaping in roadside, cul-de-sac, and boulevard areas and on property bordering environmentally sensitive areas. With the full support of council, the city also initiated a municipal open space naturalization program which includes both a public education program and a related in-house staff training initiative (City of Waterloo, 1998).

Not to be outdone by the regions smaller cities, the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto initiated a  ing306.jpg (27373 bytes) broad series of natural landscaping programs under an original 1990 council mandate. The lead agency, Metro Toronto Parks & Culture, first developed a comprehensive natural landscaping policy to enhance Metro parklands and restore them to more natural conditions. As the manager of the city's waterfront and river valley parkland and open space, the agency's work has been carried over to roadside and boulevard naturalization along the city's busiest transportation corridors. Metro Parks then developed a comprehensive planning methodology for incorporating natural landscaping throughout Metro Toronto. In 1997, a Naturalization Compendium was published that includes a series of best management strategies, a model implementation program and a subsidiary roadside naturalization site selection guide.

Figure 3.6 Toronto Parkland Naturalization Compendium

The Department has identified the following ecological, societal and aesthetic goals of the naturalization program (Metro Parks, 1998):

  1. reestablish biological diversity and integrity
  2. enhance wildlife habitats
  3. protect and enhance environmentally significant areas
  4. establish linkages within and throughout the parkland
  5. address potential and existing erosion problem
  6. control the spread of invasive species
  7. mitigate air and noise pollution and storm water runoff
  8. promote community stewardship of natural areas (Metro Parks & Culture, 1996)

The former City of Toronto also established a "Naturalization Committee" as part of its Parks and Recreation Department. The Committee has developed a series of supportive by-law structures to help preserve remnant natural areas in the city and assisted with the drafting of Toronto's revised weed law which permits natural landscaping32. Through its own park, open space and roadside naturalization, the Committee has also published a series of guides and research documents on the subject.

The City of Toronto also established the Toronto Atmospheric Fund as a part of its commitment to ing307.jpg (112914 bytes)the Canadian Federation of Municipalities 20% Club. With a significant endowment and a mandate to promote global climate stabilization through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, part of its mission is "to create and preserve urban greenspaces which act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere" (Toronto Atmospheric Fund, 1996). The Fund supports community and schoolground naturalization projects through a financial and technical assistance program.

In addition to the Toronto Atmospheric Fund's work, the City of Toronto also established a Healthy Cities Office as a part of the municipality's "Healthy City 2000" strategy. The office actively supports and promotes community and civic natural landscaping as a part of "green lungs" air quality improvement projects (Toronto Healthy Cities Office, 1998). Both offices will remain open in the newly amalgamated city.

Fig. 3.7 Naturalized Park, Toronto (source: Metro Parks)

Other southern Ontario cities to have embraced natural landscaping include Kitchener, Guelph and the Regional Municipality of Niagara. The City of Guelph, in particular, implemented a comprehensive park naturalization policy in 1991 which it reviewed and substantively updated in 1993. With an overall goal of restoring the viability of natural ecosystems within the city to provide "a healthy environment for housing, recreation and the economy", the policy was adopted by council as a guiding environmental objective (City of Guelph, 1993). The City has experimented with non-traditional, non-park, restorations with select boulevard, roadside and cul-de-sac areas that are considered "big enough to sustain an ecosystem" (City of Guelph, 1998). Last year, the City discontinued boulevard and cul-de-sac mowing, turning the responsibility over to neighbours and local businesses. So far, a few locations have been adopted by environmental-minded community groups and schools who have initiated natural landscaping programs on the property. After some initial resistance, support for the city's natural landscaping initiatives has been "very strong" and the city intends to develop further policy in regard to the practice (City of Guelph, 1998).

Outside of southern Ontario, however, political awareness and practical application of natural landscaping falls dramatically with the exception of a few programs in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. Of the remaining initiatives, all are relatively ad-hoc and do not share the policy-based thrust of their eastern counterparts. Interestingly,the western municipality most likely to adopt the first comprehensive policy also happens to employ the individual who started Canada's first natural landscaping program in North York. Although the City of North Vancouver has only completed its first two projects (the one pictured on the previous pageing308.jpg (41669 bytes)   and a boulevard naturalization that was part of a fisheries habitat protection scheme), the municipality has established an Environmental Protection Committee to draft an Environmental Protection Plan and an Environmental Protection By-law which, according to staff, will include significant references to and stipulations for natural landscaping (City of North Vancouver, 1997).

Fig. 3.8 Naturalized Boulevard, North Vancouver (source: author)

Across Burrard Inlet in the City of Vancouver, various agencies and departments are beginning to apply and include natural landscaping strategies as a part of their operating programs. The Engineering Department is exploring the promotion of natural landscaping as a means of reducing municipal water consumption and storm water run-off33. The department recently completed its first boulevard naturalization demonstration project in combination with a local environmental organization. There are plans for further projects. Also in the Engineering Department, the Streets Department was recently drafted preliminary guidelines for boulevard naturalization on city owned land. The department was forced to establish basic height and setback requirements, as city residents and environmental groups have started replacing sections of the conventionally turfed boulevards with native species.

In a related occurrence, the Vancouver Parks Board, the autonomous authority responsible for the maintenance of vegetated traffic circles, parks and open spaces, has developed a series of test sites to determine native plant suitability in high traffic, roadside areas. In east Vancouver, the department  ing309.jpg (25010 bytes)developed an experimental streetscape which uses native plant features in traffic circles to calm traffic, and converted one lane of the roadway into a naturally landscaped park area.

Figure 3.9 Naturalized Traffic Circle, Vancouver Note naturalized traffic bulges (source: author)

In addition, the Parks Board also initiated a program to match funds raised by local groups wishing to landscape traffic circles. Although not required, the planting guidelines suggest the use of native species.

Of final note in Vancouver, is the city's comprehensive greenway program which is currently in development. Although the original scope of the exercise has met certain budgetary realities, native plants are used extensively in the new roadside plantings34.

ing310.jpg (24812 bytes)
Fig. 3.10
Vancouver Parks Board Boulevard Naturalization Site (source: author)

Another interesting natural landscaping program is currently underway in the District of West Vancouver, Canada's wealthiest municipality. There the Parks department, with support of the Planning Department's Advisory Design Panel, is actively pursuing a natural landscaping program in its parks and formal open spaces. The District has drastically reduced, and in some cases, terminated, its mowing of passive parkland spaces. Most surprisingly for a community that prides itself on its prim and formal English appearance, native species have begun to replace annuals and bulbs in the district's extensive ornamental boulevard plantings. Although public reaction to the process is mixed, the District is determined to continue its practices. It has not yet identified the need to formulate a formal policy on the subject, but rather hopes to win public support and approval through its gradual and continued application (District of West Vancouver, 1998).

3.2.3 General Barriers and Opportunities in the Public Realm

It is clear from the previous summary that there is an obvious upward direction in municipal natural landscaping initiatives across North America. With reference to some of the case summaries, the following section makes several conclusions about some general barriers and opportunities for both present and future programs and policies. In particular, the societal, political, informational and regulatory opportunities and barriers are discussed. This section is intended primarily to introduce several key points to help lead into the next chapter which will determine the specific barriers and opportunities for the Halifax Regional Municipality to adopt a natural landscaping strategy. With this in mind, only some introductory analysis is provided in the following subsections. Opportunities are discussed first, then the barriers.


By far the most significant factor for the continued public and political acceptance and practice of natural landscaping is the present size of the movement. So many private gardeners have switched to natural landscaping, so many municipalities have developed programs and policies on the subject, and so many levels of government are now involved in natural landscaping in one way or another that the movement has achieved a relatively forward momentum. No longer is it the practice of a few fringe municipalities, but a process with political support that, in the US anyway, can be traced from municipal units right back to the highest political office in the country, the White House35. Given these facts and the status of some of public agencies involved in the field, natural landscaping has become endowed with a certain public credibility that many other environmental practices have yet to receive.

Additionally, given the sheer number of municipalities now involved with natural landscaping, any other city seeking to initiate its own program can draw upon a wealth of practical experience and knowledge in the field. From specifics about site and plant selection to how to successfully involve the public, there are a number of excellent in-house research documents available to a public authority willing to search them out.

Further, from a regulatory perspective, natural landscaping is now explicitly supported through a number of US federal Acts and regulations, such as the US FHA's funding regulations. Given some of environmental benefits associated with the use of natural landscaping, such as their ability to lessen storm water flows, its adoption as an environmental planning tool is also implicitly supported by a large number of federal, state, provincial and municipal environmental regulations. It is for this reason the EPA provides natural landscaping assistance to municipalities seeking to meet US Clean Water Act regulations. Most state and provincial Planning Acts mandate environmental objectives which can be met through natural landscaping strategies.

A further opportunity municipalities share in the movement towards natural landscapingis the large public land resources they typically control and the shrinking budgets with which to maintain them.Although many municipalities would see this as a challenge, others have accepted it as an opportunity to both diversify their landscape management approach and to restore elements of ecological integrity to open spaces and parkland within the city. Many have also accepted natural landscaping as an opportunity to establish themselves as environmental leaders in the public realm and to educate the general public on the merits of natural landscaping in the process.

A final opportunity rests with the current, almost faddish, desire of municipal planning agencies to create "a sense of place" in their development undertakings. Although "place" is generally translated through the use of vernacular architectural and/or cultural elements, natural landscaping could also be used in this process. Unlike the homogeneity of conventional landscaping standards, natural landscaping with its use of regionally native species can: (1) help physically distinguish one place, or region from another through its outward vegetated landscape forms and patterns; and, (2) help local residents better appreciate, understand and learn the natural features that make their "place" different from others.

ing311.jpg (25358 bytes) ing312.jpg (34120 bytes)
Figures 3.11 and 3.12
Question: What Place is This?

Answer England actually, but it could be anywhere. The landscape does not reflect the place. (source: Kristensen, 1993)

Question: And This?
Answer A suburban home in Tucson set in the matrix of the regional landscape of Tucson, Arizona (Source: Hough, 1990)


Despite the opportunities for natural landscaping to increase both its public profile and its application on private and public land, there are a number of crucial barriers yet to overcome. By far the greatest is cultural inertia.

Even if by some magical decree the governments of both Canada and the US were to demand that all urban open space, private and public, be landscaped naturally, it would probably take at least a generation for full public acceptance and support. The aesthetic preferences and management practices natural landscaping seeks to supplant are firmly and deeply rooted in the minds of the general public, landscape professions and the political community at large. When this cultural inertia   is considered in combination with the general lack of awareness of the environmental issues associated with the contemporary urban landscape, the obstacle becomes even more significant. Quite simply, there is no simple solution to this challenge either, save ongoing public education coupled with a long-term commitment to active landscape conversion. To be sure, it is no small task.

Compounding the problems of cultural inertia, is the fact that the long-term demands of successful natural landscaping strategies require sustained political commitment and vision. Given the somewhat polemic nature of natural landscaping and the occasionally adverse initial public reaction to it, some projects have been abandoned for short term electoral gain. For natural landscaping to persist, it must be incorporated into larger, politically binding environmental strategies and policies.

Short term motives drive another obstacle to natural landscaping. Although "selling" the practice on the merits of its reduced maintenance costs is common, its adoption on purely fiscal terms undermines and dilutes its larger environmental agenda. Natural landscaping must be understood and applied as a holistic landscape management tool whose principal goal is the restoration of ecological systems and the reintegration of natural processes into the urban environment. It should not be known only as a tool to achieve reduced mowing schedules.

A final obstacle natural landscaping faces in the municipal realm is its typical segregation to parks departments, as though it was only parks that are candidates for naturalization and only municipal grounds supervisors that should be concerned with it. Such an approach not only limits its applications, but also further departmentalizes and segregates disciplines and expertise in the public sector. Successful natural landscaping programs, however, such as those in Tucson and Portland, are broad based interdepartmental efforts that see natural landscaping applied for a number of different purposes and in a number of different locations throughout the city. Vancouver's current ad-hoc approach where natural landscaping is loosely pursued by a number of different city departments with no communication between them, underscores the difficulty of realizing significant gains in the field without an overarching policy statement that involves the coordinated work of various departments.

ing313.jpg (43425 bytes)Figure 3.13

What's Wrong Here?

Nothing really, but to most this unintentional boulevard naturalization would likely be perceived as unsightly and unkempt. The greatest attitudinal barrier facing naturalization, particularly in highly visible places, is the perception of its being unsightly.

(source: author)

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