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

by John Ingram

4.5 Conclusions and Recommendations

Although the previous section identified HRMs current lack of awareness of both natural landscaping and the problems associated with present landscaping conventions, this thesis nevertheless clearly supports the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy for the region and aspires to initiate some discussion on the matter. The following section, therefore, proposes a general course of action for the municipality to develop such a strategy and offers a series of related policy recommendations to facilitate the process. The suggestions put forward use the same arrangement of events demonstrated in Table 7, Pathway to Sustainable Natural Landscaping, and begin with recommendations concerning basic awareness of the urban landscape issues in the municipality.

This section does not, however, outline a specific natural landscaping strategy that HRM could adopt. The development of a such a policy program is beyond the scope of this thesis. As outlined at the beginning of section 4.0, a natural landscaping strategy includes among other things, a comprehensive policy and by-law framework, a practical implementation and siting program and a dedicated public education and involvement plan, each of which alone are too significant and time consuming for full consideration here.

Although thet proposals this section make will certainly speak to each of these areas, they do not pretend to offer a specific course of action for each. Essentially, this section further justifies the need for the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM and offers some basic how to proposals on the subject.

4.5.1 Natural Landscaping Applications and HRM: An Overview

To review, the benefits that HRM itself would receive from going through a landscape restoration process are many. From the more immediately tangible rewards of a reduced grounds maintenance budget to the harder to define changes in public environmental values associated with urban natural areas, the following points outline some of the rewards HRM could expect to receive from the creation of a natural landscaping strategy. The list does not intend to be exhaustive, but merely to summarize some of the benefits outlined in section 2.2. with specific regard to HRM. Some of the particular benefits include:

reduced public and environmental health risks through the decreased use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides in public areas

This list provides only a very basic overview of the potential applications and benefits of natural landscaping in HRM. All of the benefits outlined in section 2.0 could be equally well applied to HRM in particular.

4.5.2 Natural Landscaping Applications and HRM: Strategy Proposals

If HRM is going to move towards the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy, the first thing it must do is recognize the reasons for taking such a path. Going back to the flow chart that outlines the typical sequence of events in the development of a landscape restoration program, the first thing the Region could do is to officially recognize and acknowledge the environmental, fiscal and societal problems associated with the current landscape ethic and to identify natural landscaping as a viable, and perhaps even essential, alternative standard. This recognition could come in the form of an official policy statement and serve to initiate both an internal and a larger public discussion of landscape issues and the potentials of natural landscaping in HRM. It could be placed in the forthcoming regional MPS to officially make landscape restoration a matter of public policy. Further, the policy statement could serve to commit the municipality to an ongoing program of urban landscape restoration through the creation of a dedicated task force or working group on the subject which would be charged with carrying through the vision announced by the policy. This Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force could include a professional landscape ecologist. The statement could read, in part:

Policy Recommendation 1.0

The Halifax Regional Municipality acknowledges both the environmental, societal and fiscal benefits of natural landscaping. The Municipality also recognizes the inherent environmental, economic and societal problems associated with the current design and management of its conventional urban parks, gardens and open spaces. It also acknowledges that these same problems are repeated in private landscapes. As the public authority charged with the protection of public and environmental health for the region, therefore, the Municipality therefore shall:

i.) adopt an alternative urban landscape management approach that benefits public and environmental health

ii.) establish an Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force with the specific mandate of restoring landscape function and health to both private and public vegetated landscapes within the municipality ii.) recognize through the adoption of these statements the practice and larger goals of natural landscaping as a means by which the Municipality can begin to restore, maintain and enhance its urban landscapes functions and ecological processes.

None of the statements officially link the fiscal benefits of natural landscaping with its environmental benefits. It is important that the strategy be adopted in recognition of natural landscapings larger objectives an(d goals, and not for purely budgetary concerns. Still, at this stage, it is important to play up the reduced maintenance needs of natural landscapes, as they are perhaps the easiest sell for both a political community and general public not overly aware of the problems associated with conventional landscaping. Although the initial costs of landscape restoration can be significant and therefore politically difficult to support, the long term cost savings more than outweigh the original investment.

As the flow chart demonstrates, public education and involvement is central to the development of a natural landscaping strategy. It feeds into the development of specific natural landscaping policies, the dismantling of obstructing by-laws and ordinances and the creation of place specific information needed to complete the strategy, such as the creation of a comprehensive landscape inventory. To be sure, it is crucial for both the acceptance and success of any natural landscaping project on either public or private land that the general public be both involved in and supportive of the long-term process and its shorter term, individual projects. Taxpayers must understand that their dollars are being well spent, and private citizens must see the value in carrying over the process onto private property. Indeed, the overall ecological success of any natural landscaping strategy depends upon the aggregation of innumerable individual landowners decisions to naturally landscape there own properties (Nassauer, 1997).

It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that the Municipality assemble a citizen advisory board to inform the ongoing process, involve private citizens in the work of the Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force, and develop a public awareness and education program at the earliest moment. The education program should be linked to internal HRM staff training as well. As identified in section 4.4 there is as much a need to introduce staff at HRM to the environmental issues associated with conventional landscaping as there is with the general public.

The education program should be coordinated by the Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force and should not only include the dissemination of articles and information for public discussion on the subject, but should actively invite local media to become involved in the debate. As both a process and a larger objective, natural landscaping should be an issue of public debate and discussion so that citizens and staff become aware of the many reasons for its application and its larger, holistic goals.

As part of this process, therefore, the Task Force should identify and initiate a pilot naturalization site in a publicly accessible area. The site could serve as both a test plot to determine optimal landscape conversion approaches and a public demonstration site to introduce the municipality and its residents to the process itself. Ideally, the site could include an information centre to provide information on natural landscaping in general and the specifics of the municipalitys ongoing strategy. It could also incorporate an active public workshop component to teach people about the process and its plantings should serve as a model for private citizens who wish to naturalize their own properties. The workshop element could include a natural landscaping certification program of the sort offered by the City of Fort Collins outlined in section 3.2.2, so that the municipality could both track and assist private individuals with their efforts and reward their undertakings through a public recognition program.

The site could include a successional landscape area and an actively planted, aesthetically designed area to introduce people to the different approaches naturalization may take. The demonstration site/garden could also easily be developed to advance other municipal issues as well. For instance, it could include a compost demonstration area to teach citizens about home composting. Additionally, it could include a community market garden and other such elements. The public education policy statements could either be incorporated into other policy documents (Open Space Plan, MPS) or be introduced as stand alone policy. Either way, the statement could read, in part:

Policy Recommendation 2.0

The Halifax Regional Municipality and the Urban Landscape Restoration Task force shall develop an engaging natural landscaping public education and involvement program to include: i.) an adjunct public advisory panel to the Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force ii.) an internal staff education program iii.) a publicly maintained native garden and urban habitat demonstration site with a city sponsored habitat creation certification program.

Through the development of the demonstration site, the Urban Landscape Restoration Task Force could, with public input, begin acquiring the place specific information necessary for the formulation of a larger natural landscaping strategy. This information would include, foremost, a comprehensive landscape inventory to be used in the application of the strategy. The inventory could be an extension of the one currently under development through HRM's Open Space Plan and include all privately and publicly maintained vegetated landscapes.45 From an ecological perspective, public and private landscapes must be seen as being connected and not distinct land units. The inventory would not only be used to identify all potential areas which could be converted through natural landscaping, but also identify those culturally and historically important places which should not be naturalized such as the Victorian era Halifax Public Gardens.

Ultimately, this inventory could be used to create an optimal natural landscape matrix which would represent the end vision of the strategy itself.46 From a landscape ecology perspective, the matrix would identify potential patches and linking corridors based on environmental, social, fiscal and ecological criteria.

While developing the inventory and its associated matrix, other work to be completed could include the creation of a native plant and plant associations list for use in landscape conversions, a site analysis program and a site monitoring plan to measure the successes and/or failures of particular conversions. The actual natural landscaping policy statements could read, in part:

Policy Recommendation 3.0

The Halifax Regional Municipality and the Urban Landscape Restoration Task force shall prepare with public input and involvement a Natural Landscaping Strategy for application to both private and public lands. This strategy shall include: i.) a comprehensive landscape inventory that targets lands that could be converted according to an overal9l, standardized site selection and landscape matrix process ii.) revised service standards for planting, maintenance and park development iii.) the creation of a native plant and native plant associations/communities list for use in landscape conversions and restorations.

As part of the movement towards a natural landscaping strategy, HRM and the Task Force could also create a revised by-law structure to permit and promote natural landscaping on private property. As part of this effort, the Municipality could also strike and/or amend those obstructive by-laws and ordinance outlined in section 4.3. As a part of this process, the municipality could also seek to develop an incentive program for the private development sector to preserve and/or restore natural areas in its developments.

Policy Recommendation 4.0

The Halifax Regional Municipality and the Urban Landscape Restoration Task force shall create a revised by-law structure to permit and promote natural landscaping on private property through the following actions:
i.) The Municipality shall strike from its by-laws section 3 (b) and 4 (a) iii of the old City of Dartmouth Bylaw M-101
ii.) The Municipality shall amend both its old City of Halifax Streets By-Law, Number S-300, Part III (2) 11, and the old City of Halifax Streets Ordinance, number 180, Part III, section 25 to permit and regulate the private natural landscaping of publicly owned boulevard areas.
iii.) The Municipality shall amend Part XIII, section 188 (1) from the HRM Act to either remove or define the phrase dry and inflammable grass or weeds.
iv.) The Municipality shall either strike Part XIII, section 188 (2) from the HRM Act or amend it to define the word unsightly while exempting naturally landscaped properties from the definition.
v.) The Municipality shall prepare and adopt a permissive natural landscaping by-law. Its development shall adhere to the following eight points:
"1) The by-law should protect the fundamental rights of residents to choose their own landscaping (including conventional);
2) The by-law should apply equally to all residents;
3) The by-law must not legislate conformity nor allow residents to exercise control over their neighbours landscapes;
4) Any restrictions should have a rational basis related to the legitimate protection of public health, safety or welfare;
5) The by-law should not require the filing of an application, statement of intent or management plan and there should be no review or approval fees assessed against residents who intend to engage in legitimate natural landscaping;
6) The municipalitys by-law inspectors should be trained to distinguish between properties with natural, managedlandscapes versus those with unpermitted growth;
7)Enforcement of the by-law should be undertaken though due process of law which guarantees individuals the right to fair adjudication of their rights; and
8) The by-law should actively address the problems of environmental degradation brought about by proliferation of high maintenance monocultural landscapes, and indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals in landscape management. It should encourage the preservation and restoration of diverse, biologically stable natural plant communities, and environmentally sound practices." (from: Rappaport, 1993 p928)
v.) The Municipality shall, with public input, develop a planning process for private developers whereby native landscapes are preserved and restored in new developments.

By following these proposals, HRM could begin the important and rewarding task of restoring its urban landscape functions and processes. Each step in the strategy process would help ensure that the municipality not only maintain its present high quality of life, but enhance and maintain it for future generations. The costs encumbered by the Urban Landscape Task Force and its projects would, therefore, be more than made up by the associated maintenance, public health and environmental health savings.

The following section concludes the thesis and reviews the significant opportunities for HRM represented by the practice and larger objectives of natural landscaping.


36. Halifax Regional Municipality is Canadas largest municipality in terms of land mass, but it is only the countrys 13th largest in terms of population at 330,000.

37. There are two good sized and fairly natural parks in HRM, Hemlock Ravine and Point Pleasant. Point Pleasant park in particular is subject to high public use and receives fairly intensive management.

38. In a related development, there is a current council members initiative to restrict the use of pesticides on private property within HRM city limits. The objective would be realized through by-law.

39. Policy Entrepreneur is a term used by some staff at HRM to describe individuals who advance policies through their own initiative.

40. Environment Canada has suggested that the establishment of a process timetable for the meeting of policy objectives may be forthcoming (Environment Canada, 1998).

41. Interestingly, one of the 20% Clubs major partnering agencies, ICLEI, officially recognizes the value of natural landscaping in helping combat both greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. At ICLEIs Third CO2 Summit in Saitama Japan in 1995, a declaration was made to promote the conversion and restoration of natural areas using native species, taking into account differing geographical, ecological and cultural considerations (ICLEI, 1995).

42. Currently, there are at least twenty-five schoolground naturalization projects either completed or underway in the region. The Evergreen Foundation, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and practice of natural landscaping in general and schoolground naturalization in particular, maintains a representative in the municipality.

43. Specifically, those individuals interviewed included: Carol Macomber, Open Space Co-ordinator, Priority and Planning Marcus Garnet, Municipal Planner, Community Planning Department Tony Blouin, Principal, Environment Office Kevin Connely, Works Supervisor, Parks and Natural Services Howard Epstein, Regional Counsellor

44. There are many reasons for HRM having proportionately fewer environmental problems than other Canadian cities. Some reasons include the fact that HRM has a smaller industrial base, air quality problems are not compounded by geographic features and its core population is limited.

45. The inventory would include all private property, institutional and commercial property, publicly maintained parks, gardens and formal open spaces, and remnant natural areas. Each would be rated and scaled for their ease of conversion and importance in creating the overall landscape matrix.

46. Berkeley, California has recently completed such a comprehensive landscape inventory and has established for itself a landscape matrix goal. (source: Wheeler, 1994)

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