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

by John Ingram

5.0 Conclusions

One can no longer argue that the human species, particularly in industrialized western nations, can maintain its current patterns of production, consumption and growth without potentially devastating environmental consequences. Global issues such as stratospheric ozone depletion, loss of biological diversity and global warming all clearly point toward a new way of living within strict ecological boundaries for the health and safety of the planet and its populations. As this thesis 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 occasionally picturesque, symbol of the citys strained and worsening relationship with the natural environment.

As an alternative urban landscape management approach, natural landscaping offers the promise of partially restoring urban landscape function and processes, while helping to restore balance to the relationship between cities and their larger environments. Indeed, natural landscaping presents a viable, environmentally sustainable, socially engaging, and cost effective means of reconnecting city populations with nature. The messages conventional municipal landscape management and design enforce about human dominance over nature, thoughtless resource consumption, and natures amputated relationship with the city, neither advance the concept of environmental stewardship, nor complement any urban environmental programming.

Natural landscaping, on the other hand, supports and celebrates nature in the city, links the idea of ecologically healthy landscape processes to urban environmental health, and supports the greater goal of urban sustainability. By its self-sustaining capacities, it is a landscape model that can provide an example for other urban sustainability initiatives to follow. The parks, gardens and open spaces that are converted through natural landscaping can retain and enhance their recreational value while also acting as outdoor classrooms and demonstration sites to actively introduce private citizens to the concept of natural landscaping and to provide a model for private landscape restorations.

For the landscape ethic that natural landscaping represents to take root, however, the dedicated promotion and practice of natural landscaping must be made a matter of public policy and its development taken on by appropriate public authorities. As the cases discussed indicate, the ultimate ecological effectiveness of natural landscaping depends, in part, on public acceptance and practice. It must be both widely experienced by city residents and its values actively taught, so that the practice is not misunderstood or resented as an affront to conventional landscaping aesthetics. And it is here that municipalities must take an active role through the conversion of a part of their own considerable landscape resources, for it is by their example and through their promotion that natural landscaping may become common practice for individual property owners. Indeed, large scale naturalization of both municipal and private properties is crucial if the ultimate goal of natural landscaping is to be met: the placement of the city in a natural areas matrix and the marriage of urban culture and ecology.

Despite its obvious benefits and the demonstrated need, however, the obstacles to adopting a natural landscaping strategy currently limit the opportunities in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). This is not to say that the Municipality lacks the legislative tools necessary to create naturalization framework, for it does not: it has simply not taken advantage of them. But HRM is not alone in its failure to recognize and act upon the environmental problems inherent in the current landscape approach. The problem is typical to many urban regions, as the landscape ethic natural landscaping seeks to supplant is still widely, almost universally, accepted. Still, it is my opinion that the current horticultural standard has reached its apex and is now beginning its descent. As evidenced by the cases presented in this thesis, more jurisdictions are realizing both the costs to the environment and the tax payer in the upkeep of current standards and the corresponding benefits of natural landscaping.

As both a practice and a larger objective, natural landscaping is quickly gaining popularity. It may even be considered a legitimate social movement given the scale and scope of its objectives, the rapid growth of its application in both the publicly maintained landscape and on private property. Indeed, if HRM does not act in the near future it may soon find itself in the minority of North American cities, as naturally landscaped urban areas become the norm rather than the exception.

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