Defining and Designing Sustainable Landscapes

By Meghna Tare

Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington where she has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, GRI reporting, and carbon management. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, has done various radio shows on sustainability, is an active blogger, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @meghnatare.

Aug 1, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

As land becomes scarce and ever more precious, outdoor spaces need to be designed to provide value in many ways, i.e., increasing land values, rewarding the senses, promoting environmental quality, and most importantly promoting healthy communities with a sense of pride and engagement.

The term is commonly used by educators, architectural firms, researchers, and consultants who acknowledge a common understanding of the term. Yet the idea of a “sustainable landscape” often remains undefined.

Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment and can positively contribute to the development of healthy communities.  While energy efficiency remains the Holy Grail for green buildings, sustainable landscapes help sequester carbon, clean the air, promote water conservation, prevent resource depletion, and create value through significant economic, social and, environmental benefits.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative

To foster this change, in 2006 the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden launched an interdisciplinary project called The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction, and maintenance practices. Major funding for the Sustainable Sites Initiative was provided by the Dallas-based Meadows Foundation and Landscape Structures.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), an important stakeholder in the initiative, anticipates incorporating SITES guidelines and performance benchmarks into the future versions of its LEED Green Building Rating System.

The SITES rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits to choose from. The credit options, adding to 250 points, address areas such as the use of redeveloping brownfield, soil restoration, water conservation, use of recycled materials, native vegetation, sustainable construction and various land maintenance practices. Certified pilot projects are recognized with 1-4 stars for obtaining 40, 50, 60 or 80% of those 250 points.

The Pilot Program spanned two years (June 2010-12) with over 150 pilot projects testing various aspects of the Sustainable Sites Initiatives. Feedback from the pilot projects were incorporated to revise the final rating system and the technical reference guide that is scheduled for release in the fall of 2013, at which time open enrollment will begin—allowing any project to pursue the certification.

Even the federal government has acknowledged the importance of this rating system. To help achieve the sustainability goals issued in President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued the Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes based in part on SITES.

A list of all approved SITES projects is available at SustainableSites.org.

Case Study of University of Texas at Arlington

Click photo to enlarge

The Green at College Park at The University of Texas at Arlington is one of the first three projects to be certified under SITES Pilot Program. The Green at College Park is an inviting 4.62-acre space, an urban oasis and green space for the University community, neighbors and downtown visitors. The Green features a large lawn, a curved stone wall that offers seating, paving materials made from recycled bottles that allows water to permeate, native grasses, adaptive plants, and a dry creek bed that helps manage rainwater and storm water runoff.

The park helps reduce storm water runoff by more than 25%. It filters 80% of the suspended solids out of the water before it flows towards the flood-prone Johnson Creek. The project was funded through a North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) grant in partnership with the City of Arlington and UT Arlington.

The Future of Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable landscaping is a growing area. Too often, it is assumed that because a space is green, it is also sustainable.  The manifold dimensions of sustainable landscapes raise challenging questions over the nature of how to design, plan, and manage them.

The central message of the Sustainable Sites Initiative is that any landscape—educational institutions, federal buildings, shopping malls, city parks, or commercial office buildings,— holds the potential both to improve and to restore benefits of ecosystem services. These benefits—such as clean air and water, runoff prevention, or simply providing a safe habitat for a hummingbird—are essential to the health and well-being of humans and promoting healthy communities.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” writes that conventional wisdom dictates living a long life depends to a great extent on who we are, on the decisions we made, on what we chose to eat, how much we chose to exercise, or the access to medical treatments. No one is used to thinking about health in terms of the community, and he proved this point by uncovering the Roseto Mystery. I use the same analogy to bring home the point that when we bring community gardens or sustainable landscapes to the discussion of sustainability; we are doing more than just sustaining the future- we are helping build healthy communities!

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

COVID-19 is Creating the Largest Ever Telecommunity, But Not for Everyone

COVID-19 is Creating the Largest Ever Telecommunity, But Not for Everyone

Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.

How to Move More People with Fewer Vehicles

How to Move More People with Fewer Vehicles

Accenture analysts recently released a report calling for cities to take the lead in creating coordinated, “orchestrated” mobility ecosystems. Limiting shared services to routes that connect people with mass transit would be one way to deploy human-driven services now and to prepare for driverless service in the future. Services and schedules can be linked at the backend, and operators can, for example, automatically send more shared vehicles to a train station when the train has more passengers than usual, or tell the shared vehicles to wait for a train that is running late.

Managing urban congestion and mobility comes down to the matter of managing space. Cities are characterized by defined and restricted residential, commercial, and transportation spaces. Private autos are the most inefficient use of transportation space, and mass transit represents the most efficient use of transportation space. Getting more people out of private cars, and into shared feeder routes to and from mass transit modes is the most promising way to reduce auto traffic. Computer models show that it can be done, and we don’t need autonomous vehicles to realize the benefits of shared mobility.

Planning for Arts and Culture in San Diego

Planning for Arts and Culture in San Diego

The role of government, and the planning community, is perhaps to facilitate these kinds of partnerships and make it easier for serendipity to occur. While many cities mandate a portion of the development budget toward art, this will not necessarily result in an ongoing benefit to the arts community as in most cases the budget is used for public art projects versus creating opportunities for cultural programming.  

Rather than relying solely on this mandate, planners might want to consider educating developers with examples and case studies about the myriad ways that artists can participate in the development process. Likewise, outreach and education for the arts community about what role they can play in projects may stimulate a dialogue that can yield great results. In this sense, the planning community can be an invaluable translator in helping all parties to discover a richer, more inspiring, common language.

Share This