Has anyone read Ian McHarg’s book lately, Design with Nature? McHarg came from Scotland as a young man and revolutionized planning concepts as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and through his own firm’s extraordinary approach to planning. The approach he practiced prepared a series of overlays, each one representing a characteristic value in the landscape: geological, historic, social, economic, each meticulously researched in order to consider how the system worked in the area projected for development, what people valued, what development patterns existed (farm, industry, villages)....and what was proposed.
Each overlay was prepared on transparent paper so that when all the overlays were placed one on top of the other over a map of the area, it was immediately apparent where the values intersected to complement each other and where one should not allow development to occur because of critical geological activities, forests, streams, aquifer recharge areas, wetlands, farmland, historic villages . . .
That approach was not readily adopted by the majority of planners because it took time and money to develop the information and it was easier simply to allow random development to occur depending on existing zoning, presumed market factors, and the inclination of developers.
Now that we have reached a point where incremental growth is destroying local quality of life, impacting streams, the Bay, causing gridlock, we are waking up to the misery of zoning allocations, our failure to identify and preserve the infrastructure that supports our lives.
As citizens, we have a certain faith that the remnants of woods, the peaceful vistas that we see still sustaining amid the sprawling condo, townhouse and commercial sprawl are provided for. They’ll be there for us, a relief valve from the frustration of noise and hard edges. Until the bulldozers arrive, the woods falls, the signs go up: U.S. HOMES. Townhomes, they call them in a vain attempt to assuage our guilt and fear, evoking an image of neighborliness, family. 200 Townhomes. And the bulldozers save one tree, fencing it off with orange plastic, a-blaze to guard a feeble remnant of the woods that was, a tree that cannot survive without its fellows, a sad relic of an ecosystem erased.
The stormwater shed by this massive development where each house, cemented in place with its feeble postage stamp lawn, will flow through pipes into the River, doubling the loss to the aquifer, carrying with it silt, garbage, pet feces and carcinogens....into the precious waters of The River.
We let this happen to us. We say, it’s population driven, it’s economics, it’s our way of life. We disempower ourselves, claim impotence. And we will die of this disease. We will let that happen, imagining that it is inevitable, failing to question, failing to find the resources for action, failing to join the millions of people who are energetically engaged in exemplary change - toward participatory democracy, new economics for the 21st century, green infrastructure planning. We will content ourselves instead with piddling efforts that do not count in the overall machine-driven culture. We let this happen - though we have the power to redeem ourselves as one of a myriad extraordinary species of life with which we share this amazing planet Earth.